Shofar Blasts and The Ten Days of Repentance
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim
I wished to convey to you some basic ideas regarding Rosh Hashanna. Below, I have categorized various ideas contained on the holiday, the shofar, and statements from the Talmud.
The Shofar
A reader asked why we are commanded in shofar blasts on Rosh Hashanna. It is a basic question, and an essential one. I wonder how many of us truly understand the ideas God wishes we derive from shofar.
A story of a Sisra occurs in Judges 4:16. After his army was completely wiped out, Sisra fled on foot to seek a hiding place. Yael deceived him into believing she would protect him. As a charade, she hid him. He asked for water, but she gave this wearied general some milk. He drank and fell asleep, as Yael planned. Using this opportunity as Sisra was completely vulnerable, she drove a peg into his skull and killed him. Sisra's mother anticipated her son's return from war with great booty. Upon his delay, her hopes disintegrated into weeps of despair as the grim reality set in that Sisra was not returning, he was dead.
Sisra's mother's weeps form the basis of the shofar blasts, as her cries displayed her acceptance of reality. Our shofar blasts - mimicking her sobbings - represent acceptance of the ultimate reality, the recognition of God as the King. We must awake from our slumber, "uru yshanim may-shinaschem", "awake you sleepers from your sleep." Blowing the shofar in the form of long and short blasts - like the long and short sobs of Sisra's mother - we cry in recognition of a reality abandoned, and strive to realize the reality of our Creator, and a time now to make amends.
Mount Sinai also contained the shofar blast as a central theme. In that eternally, unmatched miraculous event that was witnessed by millions. The shofar at Sinai again - indicates the ultimate reality, that God revealed proof of His very existence at this one-time event. The shofar prayers actually commence with the account at Sinai, showing just how essential that event was and that it is eternal. Additionally, the account of Sinai repeats the shofar's presence many times. It was highly significant. The shofar stands out as a powerful reminder of our acceptance of the reality of God - the Ruler of the universe.
The Talmud cites the reason for our selection of the ram's horn, Rosh Hashanna 16a:
"Rabbi Abahu asked, 'why do we blow with the shofar of a ram?' God said, 'blow with the shofar of a ram, in order that I recall the sacrifice of Isaac son of Abraham. and I will render it as though you sacrificed yourselves before me."
The ram is what Abraham offered in place of Isaac, God saw Abraham's complete devotion to His will, instructing Abraham not to slay his only son. The ram was caught in the thicket by its horns. So the rams' horns have significance before God - significantly, the event of sacrificing oneself to God.
A bent shofar is also used - as opposed to a straight shofar. This embodies the concept that we are to be bent over physically before God.
Malchyos (Kingship) - Zichronos (Remembrance) - Shofros (Shofar)
Our prayers comprise these three categories. The Talmud (Rosh Hashanna 16a) says as follows,
"God said, say before Me on Rosh Hashanna, Kingships prayers, Remembrance prayers and Shofar prayers. Kingship-so you make me your King, Remembrance-so your Remembrance rises before Me for good, and with what shall you accomplish all this? With Shofar prayers."
Accepting God as King is first and foremost. It is upon this that all reality is based. What we see during our entire lives is no other than all that God created. We therefore praise God for all His creation. God is King.
Remembrance prayers means to teach that God takes notice of our lives and doings. And not only Jews, but all mankind. For this reason, we state that God remembered Noah and the Flood. He was not a Jew, but he was God's creature. And this alone suffices God's recognition. He wills all people exist. The prayer contains the sentiments that God sees all, nothing is hidden, that He sees to the end of all generations, and judges all of mankind. Even unto man's innermost thoughts, all is clear as day to God.
God knows all.
Now that we have come this far in the prayers, i.e., 1)we understand that God is King (Kingship), and 2)He knows all (Remembrance), therefore we make recourse to relating to Him via shofar in our Shofros prayers - third in the sequence. He is the One to relate to - 1)the King. He will 2)recognize our call, so we conclude with calling out to Him 3)via the shofar. We thereby demonstrate that we desire to follow the only true reality that God is our central focus.
To demonstrate that these three themes are not singular experiences, we quote numerous verses from all three sections of Scriptures, from Torah, from Prophets and from Writings. This teaches us that they are divinely, intended themes, permeating the Law, and central ideas by which to live.
Written and Sealed
What is the concept of being written for a fate on Rosh Hashanna, but not sealed with a fate until Yom Kippur?
Talmud Beitzah, 16a states, "Kol mezonosav shel adam ketzuvim lo m'Rosh Hashanna ad Yom Kippur..."
"All man's needs are decided for him from Rosh Hashanna until Yom Kippur, excluding his needs for Shabbos, the Holidays and his son's Torah learning. If (in these three) he spends little, he is given little, if he spends much, he is given much."
The reason for God's intervention in these three areas is that they represent man's view of reality. Man's expenditures on Shabbos, the holidays and Torah education represent his true value system. Shabbos celebrates God as Creator, the Holidays as God's intervention in our lives, and Torah education for his son as man's wish for his most treasured object, his child - i.e., a display of his real values. Throughout the year, man may alter these values, and thereby receive varying degrees of providential support from God. Such providence underlines when man is functioning in the right path, and when he is not.
Similarly, during these Ten Days of Repentance, man understands that God is about to seal his fate for the coming year. This terminality is inescapable, and hence, man is acting without distortion. His true values surface and he shows his true colors. It is therefore the one time during the year where man demonstrates his innermost virtues, and it is now, that he is most fit to be judged.
It is interesting that Rosh Hashanna is both the catalyst of man's best performance, and simultaneously, it is the focus of his attention, in that he recognizes God as King. It is both the means and the end. An unusual phenomena.
Let us use Rosh Hashanna as it should be, as a chance to refocus ourselves on the reality of God's existence and ultimately a redirection of our energies from the mundane to the sublime, as this is how God says we will find our utmost fulfillment and happiness. God created man long ago. He did so as an act of kindness that other beings may recognize and appreciate His infinite wisdom. He created a world which exudes wisdom at every turn. Let the shofar wake us up from emotionally attractive, trivial and temporal involvements, and conversely, let us realize what is eternal, of unmatched value and what is truly best for us as God's creatures.
May we all be written and our fate sealed for a good life.

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