Where is the Shofar mentioned in the Bible? why do we blow the shofar? how to blow a shofar? And what does it have to do with current Jewish tradition? All the answers are right here.
In ancient times, the Shofar used to be blown on many occasions, being a powerful wind instrument that could be heard far and wide. The commandment to hear the sound of the shofar appears in the Torah, and it characterizes Rosh Hashanah more than anything else. As the Bible says:
The Shofar is mentioned in the Bible more than any other musical instrument – 72 times! It is referred in the context of rituals and sanctity, the anointing of kings and leaders, going to war, assembling the People, redemption, burial, etc.
The first mention of the Shofar in the Torah is during the Giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai – the sound of the Shofar is said to accompany the special and powerful atmosphere, and give it a sense of awe and glory:
A further mention, which many of us know from Torah lessons in elementary school, is from the time of the Conquest of the Land by Joshua and Battle of Jericho. On the seventh day of the siege of Jericho, seven priests marched seven times around the city walls while blowing the Shofar:
When King David brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, it says:
During the time of the Temple, the Shofar was blown every day. There was even a special place called ” the Trumpeting Place” (Beit HaTeki’ah), located in the corner between the Southern and Western Walls, so that the Shofar could be heard throughout Jerusalem and the nearby fields.
The beginning of the Shabbat was also announced by a series of six blows:
Hence the Hebrew expression, “to be as a shofar” (“leshamesh keShofar”) – meaning, to be a herald, an announcer.
When the Temple was destroyed, the shofar lost its public function as an announcer announcing various events, but its ritual function was preserved for the observance of the mitzvah of blowing the kosher shofar on Rosh HaShanah (later the Rabanan also corrected it on the evening of Yom Kippur). In some communities, the shofar is also blown in the month of Elul during Slichot time and fasting.
why do we blow the shofar?
Rabbi Saadia Gaon, 942-882, one of the great Babylonians, mentioned 10 reasons for blowing the shofar on Rosh Hashanah:
- To “crown” the Lord, the way kings were crowned, by blowing of the Shofar.
- To remind us that Rosh Hashanah is the time for repentance (Teshuva), otherwise one challenges himself like the one who decides to change the king’s laws even though he knows them.
- To commemorate the Giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, and to commit ourselves, like our forefathers did when they said, ‘All that the LORD hath spoken will we do, and obey.
- To pay tribute to the words of the Prophets, which were likened to the sounds of the Shofar.
- To commemorate the Destruction of the Temple, and by hearing the Shofar to ask for the Building of the Third Temple.
- To commemorate the Binding of Isaac.
- Upon hearing the Shofar, to make us tremble, shudder and “break ourselves” before our Creator.
- To remind us of the great Day of Judgment and to fear it.
To mention and to hope for the Gathering of the Exiles, as described in the Book of Isaiah (27:13):
And it shall come to pass in that day, that a great horn shall be blown; and they shall come that were lost in the land of Assyria.
- To mention the Resurrection of the Dead:
הThe Rambam (Maimonides, Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, 1135-1204), one of the greatest Poskim and thinkers, said that beyond the fact that blowing the Shofar on Rosh HaShanah is a mitzvah, it has the additional value of man’s transcendence:
Order of blowing:
According to the Mishnah, every Jew must hear nine Shofar sounds on Rosh HaShanah.
The word “Teru’ah” is mentioned three times in the Torah, and every “Teru’ah” should be preceded and followed by an (ordinary) “Teki’ah”. That is, making the order of Teki’ot three times: Teki’ah, Teru’ah, Teki’ah (TaRaT) – nine sounds.
In the fourth century, a third sound was added – Shevarim (sounding like sighs), because of a doubt concerning the exact sounds and their combination, thus, the number of sounds was increased from nine to thirty.
Consequently, we blow all the different combinations:
The Rambam writes about this:
Over the passage of the years and throughout the many exiles, doubt has been raised concerning the Teru’ah which the Torah mentions, to the extent that we do not know what it is: Does it resemble the wailing with which the women cry when they moan, or the sighs which a person who is distressed about a major matter will release repeatedly? Perhaps a combination of the two. Therefore, we fulfill all [these possibilities]. The crying refers to what we call Teru’ah. The repeated sighs refer to what we call three Shevarim. (Shofar 3:2)
Over the years, most communities added another thirty sounds during prayers – Malchuyot, Zichronot, Shofarot –ninety sounds altogether!
And to round things up nicely – another ten sounds in order to reach one hundred.
The Shofar in our time:
Since the establishment of the State of Israel, the Shofar has played an important role during various ceremonies and events of a national Jewish character.
- At the conquest of the Western Wall (in 1967), Rabbi Shlomo Goren (the Chief Military Rabbi at the time) blew the Shofar.
- When the hostages released on Operation Entebbe returned home, they were greeted by the sound of Shofar at Ben-Gurion Airport.
- At the swearing-in ceremony of the President of the State of Israel, immediately after the President signs the oath, a Shofar blowing is heard.
- In the opening and closing ceremonies of the Maccabiah events, 12 people holding Shofars, symbolizing the Twelve Tribes of Israel, blow them while marching around the stadium.
- Other than that, the Shofar is blown during prayers at the Tombs of the Righteous (Kivrei Tzadikim), some people blow the Shofar during the Mimouna festivities (at the end of Passover), and there are those who blow the Shofar at weddings and other celebrations.