Our tradition has given us this mysterious object, so primal and so simple and yet full of layers of meaning and symbolism: the shofar.
The blasts of the ram’s horn on the High Holy Days evoke in our minds and hearts multiple different meanings. Starting on the first day of Elul, Jews around the world gather in synagogues to listen every morning to the powerful blasts of the shofar.
The sound of the shofar serves as a clarion announcing a royal coronation, in which we are accepting once again our Supreme Sovereign of the Universe as our King and ruler.
The shofar also emulates a clarion that wakes us from our complacency and exhorts us to continue the battle we have ahead of us in our paths. Like an echo from eternity, it also carries on its’ vibrations the words revealed at Sinai, reminding us of our covenant and commitment with God. In its sounds we also receive the message of the prophets and of our rabbis and teachers who have added to this eternal message, encouraging us to act promptly and reminding us that time is short and the task is long.
The blasts also remind us of the ram that was substituted for Isaac when Abraham was tested to sacrifice his beloved son. We can close our eyes, hear the blasts of the shofar and imagine we are listening to the cries of an agonizing animal. This piercing and moving sound stirs our own souls, goes deep into our core and moves us emotionally, allowing us to become aware of our fragility, pain and mortality.
On each of its tonalities the shofar carries the reminder of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem while simultaneously also representing the return of all Jews from exile, reminding us that deliverance can always be possible, even if it takes longer than expected – sometimes even multiple generations. And it also reminds us that Redemption has not yet been achieved, and we still look at a future day when God’s Majesty will be witnessed by all the world and felt in every heart.
When we hear the shofar we are told the Gates of Heaven are open, waiting for us to communicate in a more direct and honest manner and be able to do teshuvah and improve ourselves. It is also a reminder that forgiveness comes from multiple sources: from God, from others we have wronged and something very important most people forget: self-forgiveness.
The shofar is joyous and sad, inspirational and humbling, animal-like and divine, old and new. It can represent mortality as well as pointing at those things eternal. It is an invitation to count our flaws and transgressions and a reminder that we are always predetermined to be forgiven.
It is my wish that during these Yamim Noraim, these Days of Awe, the multiple meanings of the shofar sound touch your heart and allow you to be transformed into a better version of yourself you want to become in this new year cycle ahead.
L’shanah tovah u’metukah, to a good and sweet year, and may you be inscribed in the Book of Life.
Rabbi David Cohen-Henriquez is the spiritual leader of Temple Sinai in Marblehead.