My hope and desire are that the Eternal would pour out His blessings for us in this new cycle of the year 5782. I would like to speak a little about the shofar, its use, the types of shofarot that exists and what is the meaning of the command to “hear the sound of the shofar”. At Yom Teruah (which means the “Day of the Sounding of the Shofar”), the Torah tells us in Vayikra 23:24 ““Tell the people of Israel, ‘In the seventh month, the first of the month is to be for you a day of complete rest for remembering, a holy convocation announced with blasts on the shofar” and in Bamidbar 29: 1: it says “In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you are to have a holy convocation; do not do any kind of ordinary work; it is a day of the blowing the shofar for you.”
These commands indicate that it is a “TIME TO LISTEN”, not to ask, not to beg, not to make plans, not to see how they blow the shofar or to do anything else that conflicts with the command of LISTENING. In other words, it is a time to be quiet, and to remain silent as a community (which is why it says “holy convocation”).
According to some scholars, the shofar was used for different reasons; one is to announces the “Beginning of Creation”, with the Bore Olam being the Unique Sovereign King. It’s a way of accepting His Kingdom, His status as King and that we are His people. It was also used to mark the “Beginning of the Ten days of Teshuva”, to remind us that we can return to the King’s house. We are also reminded of the “Revelation on Mount Sinai” was where our forefathers as a nation accepted the covenant that God would be our King and that we would be His People. On the other hand, it reminds us of the “Admonitions of the Prophets”. Ezekiel said in chapter 33: 4-5 “then, if the sword comes and takes away someone who heard the sound of the shofar but who paid no attention to it, the responsibility for that person’s death would be his own — he heard the shofar but paid no attention, so the responsibility for his death is his own; whereas if he had paid attention, he would have saved his life.”
Jews also remember the destruction and the hope of the rebuilding of the Temple. It reminds us of the path that leads spiritually to the fear of God, as Amos 3: 8 says “The lion has roared. Who will not fear?”. We are reminded of our prophet Zephaniah’s judgment day, in chapter 1: 14 and16, “The great Day of the LORD is near, near and coming very quickly; Hear the sound of the Day of the LORD! When it’s here, even a warrior will cry bitterly; a Day of the shofar and the battle-cry against the fortified cities and against the high towers [on the city walls].”
It’s also a moment to remember the regathering of those of us who are dispersed in the diaspora, as is written in Isaiah 27:13: “On that day, a great shofar will sound. Those lost in the land of Ashur will come, also those scattered through the land of Egypt; and they will worship Adonai on the holy mountain in Yerushalayim.” We are reminded of the Akedah Yitzchak, the Binding of Isaac and heralds the fulfilment of the coming of the messiah, Zechariah in chapter 14: 9: “Then Adonai will be King over the whole world. On that day Adonai will be the Only One, and His Name will be the Only Name”.
In a speech in 1934 by Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, the Chief Rabbi of Latvia on his last Rosh Hashanah, his drash was about the types of shofarot that exist; one that is “tahor” or proper, another is usable but not ideal, and the last one that is “tamei” impure. We can delve into this subject more deeply by reading the Pninei Halacha or his speech named “blow a great shofar for our freedom”, since the command is “listening” and does not refer to the kind of horn we would be using to listen. The ideal shofar, the Shofar HaGadol is the one made from the horn of a pure animal (tahor) – in this case is the ram. The second is the Benoni shofar, a shofar that is acceptable but not ideal, like that of the antelope, gazelle, or goat. And we have a katan shofar, which is taken from an impure animal like an elephant or rhinoceros, but when we hear its sound, we fulfill the command of listening.
With all this in mind, let’s looks at the scenario that I previously described, the Akedah. What happened there? Abraham was ordered by the Creator to sacrifice his son, his “only son,” and during this trying and painful test, just before the sacrifice of Isaac, God tells him: “Stop!”
In a drash by Rabbi Moshe Chicurel I noticed a very “strange coincidence”. An animal appeared entangled in the thistles by its horns. Look at the “apparent coincidence”! First, it was a pure animal (tahor), second, from this animal the Shofar Hagadol was obtained, third, the animal was perfectly preserved for slaughter (it had no marks, scratches, etc.) and finally, it appeared at the exact moment for Abraham to “pick him up”, as if he had gone to a fast-food restaurant. At what moment did it appear? When Abraham “heard” the voice of God.
Piecing this puzzle together, what do we do when we blow the shofar? what do we use? Obviously, we use our lips, but it’s the “puff or breath” (the ruach) that produces the sound, which reminds us of Genesis, at the creation of inert matter; life begins from the moment that the Eternal breathes His “breath of life” into us. In this sense, the shofar is only an instrument for us to remember life.
So, what do we make of all these parallel stories centuries apart? First, that coincidences in the spiritual realm do not exist, everything is part of His divine plan, but for this we must learn to grasp the spiritual world, which implies “Learning to listen carefully to the instructions of life.” What would have happened if Abraham did not listen to the voice of the Eternal and did not recognize the reality of his environment? Isaac would have died, or Abraham would not have noticed the animal that God sent him to carry out His Will.
On the other hand, when we hear the Shofar, it is as if God breathes life into us again and calls us to awaken from our inert state to a living state, to call us to life through his Divine Breath. And referring to Rabbi Abraham Kook, he teaches us about the three types of redemptive shofarot, where he explains that the first shofar, the Shofar HaGadol, the great and supreme, symbolizes the “religious awakening” of the Jewish people to the redemption of the Land that God promised them, and it was this call that the sages of Israel heard in modern times when they longed to return to Zion.
However, there is the second Shofar, heard by “secular Jews”, which calls them to go up to the Land of Israel because it is the homeland of their ancestors: “Here lived our ancestors, our prophets, our kings. Here we can live as a free people in our country, here we can educate our children in a Jewish environment.”
However, with the last shofar, the Shofar Katan, Rabbi Kook burst into tears, saying: “There is a third Shofar taken from an “impure” animal – those who hate Israel blow this sound into the ears of the people who call the Jews to flee while they can and return to Israel.” Their enemies force them to redemption, warning them with battle cries and the clamour of trouble and suffering, giving them no rest. And whoever ignores the call of the first Shofar and even that of the second, will be forced to listen to the voice of the third … but on this Shofar one does not make a blessing, as is written in Berakhot 51b, “One should not bless the cup of punishment.”
In a prophetic sense, Rabbi Kook in 1934, heard the literal voice of the Divine Shofar, where he prophesied about the return to Israel of the sages, or of those who returned to their land seeing that Europe was no longer safe for them. The impure animal that blew the last shofar was the Third Reich, which forced those who neglected the calls to listen, something that this great man of God could not see in his physical body, but saw with his neshama, his soul, which is why he burst into tears. Isaiah 27:13 says “On that day a great shofar will sound. Those lost in the land of Ashur will come, also those scattered through the land of Egypt; and they will worship Adonai on the holy mountain in Yerushalayim.”It is our responsibility to choose what kind of shofar we will hear.
In this respect, here is the Eternal’s call for 5782. We have been living for more than two years under many restrictions against our personal freedom. We are seeing the visible signs of the consequences that come from us literally destroying our planet; we must change our habits to survive, but they seem only to be met with a dull resounding among the crowds. We are seeing a society decaying in morals and corruption, distancing itself from the Ten Commandments given to mankind by our Creator, with many of us living in a dream (the American dream perhaps?).
Far from reality, we think that if “it doesn’t touch me personally”, I can be tolerant; I can be the one to look away and not expose the injustices. Mishlei 6: 9 says ” How long will you lie there in bed? When will you get up from your sleep?” My desire for this New Year 5782 is that Shear Yashuv would be an awakened community, that we learn to hear the Shofar Hagadol and that this year we would reap sweet fruit that produces life all around us.
G’mar Chatima Tovah! L´shana Tovah U’Metuka!