The Still Small Voice of the Ram’s Horn
Book Three – The People of the Ram
By Michael T. Chusid
BOOK ONE – THE CALL OF THE HIGH HOLY DAYS Click here.
BOOK TWO – FOR THE SHOFAR BLOWER Click here.
BOOK THREE – THE PEOPLE OF THE RAM.
3-1 Shepherd Nation: Shofar is a legacy of our ancestor’s vocation.
3-2 The Still Small Voice: Shofar as a call to silence.
3-3 Sometimes a Shofar is Just a Shofar: Psychological perspectives.
3-4 The Shaman’s Shofar: Tikkun olam and the healing of our souls and world.
3-5 Beyond the Days of Awe: Shofar for other holidays and rituals.
3-6 The Ram’s Horn of Passover: A proposal for a shofar on a seder table.
3-7 The Silent Shofar: Including the deaf in shofar.
3-8 Iconography and Iconolatry: The visual symbolism of horns in Judaism.
3-9 More Teachings from the Ram: Grazing among the writings of the Sages.
3-10 Shalshelet and Shofar: A trope and the chain of tradition.
3-11 After Jericho, Shevarim: Shofar insight from The Book of Joshua.
3-12 Would a Shofar by Any Other Name Smell So Sweet?: Insights from etymology.
3-13 Spirituality and “Spirality”: Shofar’s spiral shape as a map for spiritual growth.
3-14 Blow it as it Grows: Can a side-blown horn be a shofar?
3-15 Shofar, So Good: Teachings too good to ignore.
Cover Image: Akedah, from mosaic at Bet Alpha Synagogue, 6th Century, www.jhom.com/calendar/tishrei/popup_art2.htm.
“Shofar is part of the Jewish Operating System, the RAM that carries our collective memory.”
It is likely that Jews have blown and responded to shofar for as long as there has been a Hebrew tribe. The ram’s horn was an established technology among the sheep herding cultures of the ancient Semitic world. “The earliest portrayals of such horns in the Near East date to the… eighteen century B.C.” , and their use is undoubtedly much older than the existing archeological record.
The pastoral and nomadic children of Israel remained in an “Ovine Age” even after the more advanced civilizations around them had entered the Bronze Age. Sheep provided meat and milk for sustenance, wool for clothing and shelter, plus born and horn to fashion into implements and utensils; no part of the animal was wasted.
This image, carved 20,000+ years ago in the wall of a cave in the Dordogne Valley, France, is known as The Venus of Laussel. She is also the archetype of Eve, whose Hebrew name, Chava, means breath. The horn she is holding is thought to be associated with fecundity, and its crescent moon shape relates to a woman’s monthly cycle of fertility.
This image is from a mural in the Palace at Mari, an outpost of Sumerian culture now in Syria. Parrot, the archeologist who led the excavation, discusses the horn in his chapter on music, but cautiously speculates it could be either a shofar or a horn for oil. Braun, however, states that the image, dating from the 18th Century BCE, it is among “the earliest portrayals of [shofars] in the Near East…and are thus considerably older than the first written mention in the Old Testament.”
Detail from a group of Hittite musicians from bas-relief in Carchemish, 9th-8th century BCE, provides evidence of shofar’s antiquity.
It would have been entirely natural for shepherds to use horns as instruments. Not only were horns readily available, they are small, lightweight, and portable – important considerations for a nomadic people. The blast of a horn was one of the loudest noises an individual could generate during that era, enabling the blower to be heard by an assembled multitude or by a lone comrade far across a valley; it was the telephone of its day. Horns were used to call assemblies, to wake the sleeping, and to sound alarms – communication motifs that continue as themes of Rosh Hashanah.
Why, then, did the children of Israel use, in particular, a ram’s horn and not the horns of an ox, cow, or another animal in their fold? The answer is that, despite its highly evolved theology, literature, and laws, Judaism was – and remains at its core – a primitive religion.
I say this without criticism, for it is the Faith’s ability to satisfy our primal urges that has kept it vital from generations to generation. We are sustained by rituals performed over open flames, blood rites like circumcision, earth-based ceremonies marking the seasons, and other hallmarks of “primitive” practice more than we are by the fund drives, Hebrew schools, bar mitzvah parties, and sermons that too often demand the attention of “modern” Jews.
Part of our primitive legacy is that we have a totem. A totem is a symbol, usually an animal or other natural object, used to signify a tribe or group of people. More than just a mascot, emblem, or iconographic signature, a totem embodies a tribe’s self-identity. It carries the tribe’s spiritual energy, informs decisions about behavior, and often acts as an intermediary between a people and its god or gods.
Jews do not erect totem poles like those of Native American tribes in the Pacific Northwest; our biblical proscription against graven images is too strong to allow that. Yet our totem is alive and well and deeply rooted in our history and liturgy; our totem is the sheep; more specifically, the ram.
Consider some of the evidence: “Sheep…are the first animals to be singled out by name in the Bible.” The five books of Torah contain more than two hundred references to sheep and make clear that sheep were a fundamental commodity in both economic and spiritual commerce; the flock Jacob accumulated while in service to Laban is an example of the former, while the requirements for sacrificing rams on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are examples of the latter. The Torah and mezuzot are written on sheepskin parchment, and the tent of the Mishkon – the sanctuary that we accompanied from Sinai until the building of the first Temple – was covered in tanned ram skins.
Creation myths of many tribes recount how their totem animal brought the tribe into being. This test, too, applies to Israel’s relationship with the ram:
· Every Rosh Hashanah, the birthday of the world, we retell the Akedah, the story of the binding of Isaac, describing how the sacrifice of a ram saved the life of our patriarch, Isaac. This preserved the bloodline from which Jews descend and marked the covenant between God and the descendents of Abraham – the biological and spiritual bases for our tribal identity.
· The ram of the Akedah is so important to our tribe that legend tells us God created the ram at an auspicious moment during Creation. According to Talmud, the ram was created at twilight after the sixth day, on the eve of the first Sabbath.
· Other legends say it was created even before the first day of Creation (see box below). Zohar, for example, explains that the letters of bereshit – the first word of Torah and meaning, “in the beginning” – can be rearranged to form bara tayish – “He created a ram.”
· The significance of the ram is reinforced each year at Passover when we recount how the blood of a young ram, painted on the doorposts and lintels of our houses, saved our lives on the eve of our liberation from slavery. Our tradition states that we have to understand this as meaning not our foreparents’ lives, but our lives.
· The sound of the ram’s horn was seared into our collective psyche when it blew at Mount Sinai, heralding the renewal of our covenant with God.
More, our liturgy says, “You are our shepherd, we are thy flock.”, and Psalms, written, according to tradition, by a shepherd, declares, “we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand,” and, “The Lord is my shepherd.” The divine promise of redemption read in the Haftorah on the second day or Rosh Hashanah says, “He who scattered Israel will gather them, and will guard them as a shepherd his flock.”
With the deaths of countless martyrs, we may have felt as if we were sheep being sacrificed on the altars of history. As it is written, “But for Your sake we are killed all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
During the Roman and Byzantine periods, the ram’s horn was emblazoned on synagogue floors, burial markers, and ritual objects in much the same way the Star of David is used today.
In fact, the ram continues as a symbol of tribal and political identity. During the past few years, for example, the ram’s horn has been promoted as a symbol of the State of Israel, to be blown during observance of Yom ha’Atzmaut – Israel Independence Day.
Perhaps the selection of the ram as our totem can be understood by noting that many of the central characters in our tribal story were shepherds; Abel, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Rachel, Moses, and King David come readily to mind. The spiritual grounding of sheep herding is suggested by Amos who declared, “I am not a prophet, and I am not a prophet’s disciple. I am a sheep breeder… But the Lord took me away from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to My people Israel.’” Perhaps the experience of being alone in nature with a flock conditioned them for an encounter with Spirit; it was, for example, while tending sheep that Moses witnessed the burning bush and David, presumably, wrote many of his psalms.
It must be stressed that a totem is not an idol; it has no divine powers and is not an object to which prayers are directed. When Moses used a yearling ram for the Pascal sacrifice, he demonstrated that we are not to deify the animal as did the Egyptians. The sages make it clear that it is the shofar’s sound, not the horn’s physical entity that is important. (See Chapter 3-8 – Iconography and Iconolatry.)
Judaism is skilled at making fine distinctions between the sacred and the ordinary, and the boundary between ram as totem and ram as idol is clear; a pair of horns is unlikely to be used as a crown on a Torah scroll, for example, because the image is too evocative of an animal deity. This distinction, however, does not diminish the importance of the ram to the Jewish tribal identity for the past five millennia.
Some students of religion interpret the ram as a relic from the distant past when animals were not only symbolic totems, but were actual manifestations of divinity. For example, Joseph Campbell, an authority on mythology, notes that the ram is “one of the traditional Near Eastern animal avatars” of the divine and cites as examples: a Paleolithic petroglyph of a sun-ram being worshiped, 15th century BCE Egyptian statuary of Amun (the creator and sun-god) in the form of a ram, and iconography of Christ as a lamb.
The ram is associated with the sun in this ancient North African petroglyph
Most interesting is his citation of a 21st Century BCE Sumerian sculpture of a ram (or goat) chained to a thicket, an image with which Abraham could have been familiar. This imagery is repeated in the depiction of the Akedah shown in the mosaic floor of the Sixth Century C.E. Beth Alpha Synagogue near Galilee (See Volume Three Cover). The ram occupies a central position in the panel and is on the main axis of the room. Campbell describes the placement of the ram and the way it is tethered to a tree as symbolic of the axis mundi – the link between heaven and earth.
This statue of a goat in a bush is from Ur, the city from which Abraham and Sarah came. It suggests that legends of a ram in a bush are very ancient.
Exploring the totemistic origins of Judaism may be anathema to those who hold that the Patriarchs and Matriarchs knew God in the same way we do today, and that Torah was delivered complete and engraved in stone at Sinai. Others will find their faith strengthened by understanding that Judaism has been raised up from the primitive beliefs of the past. Still others will profess that part of Judaism’s genius has been to take familiar and ancient symbols and invest them with new, holy meaning.
Most of us lost contact with pastoral life millennia ago and no longer feel a personal identification with sheep. But the memory lives on in our collective unconscious. Every year, when we blow the shofar, we reenact, in the most primitive way possible, that we are the “people of the ram.” It is our own voice we hear in the cry of the sheep’s horn, calling to our Shepherd to let us pass beneath the staff so that we may be led to green pastures and not culled for slaughter.
The identification of the ram as the Hebrew totem may be connected to the phenomenon of the “astrological age.” There is a slow precession of Earth’s axis relative to the stars, a cycle taking about 26,000 years. Measured against the twelve zodiac constellations spaced around the earth’s elliptic, Earth is said enter a new age every 2,100 years or so.
We have recently entered the Age of Aquarius. The previous period, the Age of Pisces – the fish – began in 234 BCE according to Vedic astrology and in 498 CE in the Western reckoning. The adoption of a fish as a symbol for early Christians can be seen as a declaration of the start of a new paradigm.
Aries the ram is seen on the right, between Taurus the bull and Pieces the fish in this mosaic of the Zodiac from the Beth Alpha Synagogue.
Preceding Pisces was Aries – the Ram – The Age of Aries began about 2300 to 1600 BCE, or about the presumed time of the exodus from Egypt. The anniversary of this event, Passover, still occurs in Nissan, the Hebrew month corresponding to Aries.
This inspires speculation that the newly liberated Hebrew nation chose a ram as its totem in the spirit of their “New Age.” From this vantage, the story of the Golden Calf takes on added meaning, since the dawning of the Age of Aries also marked demise of the Age of Taurus – the bull. As one scholar puts it, “One of the reasons that Moses was so cross with the newly liberated Hebrews is that, when faced with adversity, they immediately built a golden calf and returned to the god of the previous era (Taurus), not the new god of the age of Aries.”
Horn was one of the basic materials ancient people used to fashion tools and implements. Metal was dear, pottery was heavy, and glass was not yet invented. This, and other evidence laid out in Chapter 3-6 – The Ram’s Horn of Passover, suggests that the Israelites used their shofarot as drinking horns. Venturing from home, a traveler would bring his or her shofar to use for signaling, as a utensil, and even as a weapon. How commonplace was this practice? We can get a sense of from the story of Gideon and his troops.
Gideon separated the men who “lap up water with their tongues like dogs from all those who get down on their knees to drink.” We are not told, however, how the kneeling men drew water up to their mouths. While it is often assumed the kneelers used their hands to raise the water, the Text suggests they may have used shofarot. For, when Gideon selected the 300 lappers to go into battle, they “took the…horns of the other men with them.” This indicates that the lappers did not have their own horns and may explain why they resorted to lapping, a breach of etiquette so low it is compared to dogs. Presumably, the men with shofarot could use their horns to scoop up water from a kneeling position.
Why, then, did God instruct Gideon to use the less well-equipped lappers? This can be deduced from the verse where, “The Lord said to Gideon, ‘You have too many troops with you for Me to deliver Midian into their hands; Israel might claim for themselves the glory due to Me, thinking, “Our own hand has brought us victory.”’”
Instead of scooping water with their hands, many of Gideon’s troops may have used shofarot to drink.
Not only did Gideon win the battle with just 300 soldiers, he won it with the least well-equipped soldiers – troops so dismally equipped they lacked even their own shofarot – so no one could claim that the battle was won by a squad of elite troops.
Of the 10,000 men that Gideon tested, only 300 used their hands to drink. Based on this, I calculate that 97 percent of the Israelites owned shofarot. If we further assume that some of the men lost or broke shofarot earlier in the war, we can surmise that shofar ownership was nearly universal among adult males.
“And lo, the Lord passed by. There was a great and mighty wind, splitting mountains and shattering rocks by the power of the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind – an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake – fire; but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire – a still, small voice.”
“The great shofar is sounded and a still small voice is heard.”
Our ancestors believed that the loud blasts of shofar would frighten away Satan, “the evil inclination within each of us,” that tries to interfere with our connection with the Divine. Today, we have the opposite condition, and it is loud noise itself that too often interferes with our ability to meditate and do the inner work necessary for spiritual growth. As American author James Thurber wrote, “Nowadays men lead lives of noisy desperation.”
As I write this, I can distinctly hear a rumble from a highway more than a kilometer away. An alarm clock, telephone, and radio punctuate the quiet in the house. A neighbor’s property is being remodeled to the accompaniment of pneumatic hammers and a diesel generator. In the afternoon, there will be the din of gas engine powered lawnmowers and leaf blowers. A jet flies overhead drowning out thought.
In our world, the blast of a shofar is a noise among noises. Its specific timbre or plaintive cry may stir our souls, but its acoustic intensity is unremarkable. Compared to the electronically-amplified sound of a cantor or choir, the “unplugged” shofar is only moderately loud by today’s standards.
The fundamental frequency of this shofar is 376 Hz, slightly higher than an F#.
Consider how differently its sound must have been experienced in the ancient world. During my youth, I spent a summer working on a ranch in Southeastern Utah, one of the least populated regions of the country. When I returned to “civilization,” its cacophony terrified me. For our foreparents, loud noises were almost always a cause of fear, either violent acts of nature – such as thunder or storm – or the bellicose clash of war. For them, the acoustical intensity of shofar must have been sensational in a way that we have all but lost.
Reik points out the numerous phrases in the Bible that describe the acoustical power of God. Citing Amos 1:2 as an example – “The Lord will roar from Zion” – Reik comments that, “We have certainly great difficulty in understanding this vocal performance on the part of Jahve now that we have so long been accustomed to hear God’s voice speaking to us softly, but impressively, in the growth and decay of nature; perhaps, however, the ancient Jews who were more closely in touch with totemism were able to appreciate this quality.
Immediately prior to Revelation at Sinai, there was the loudest noise imaginable:
“…the whole mountain trembled violently. The blare of the horn grew louder and louder. As Moses spoke, God answered him in thunder.”
This was followed by a silence even deeper. Midrash says:
“When the Holy One gave the Torah, no bird chirped, no fowl flew, no ox lowed, not one of the ofannim stirred a wing, not one of the seraphim said, ‘Holy, holy, holy!’ The sea did not roar, creatures did not speak – the whole world was hushed into breathless silence; it was then that the voice went forth, ‘I am the Lord thy God.’”
Had the noise stopped before the Holy One spoke? Or had we heard the still small voice of God within the powerful noise?
The poet answers this question:
“Now in the din before the silence
I can tell you things
I didn’t say in the silence before the din.”
The best chance we have today to experience the full impact of the shofar is to cultivate an inner quiet during our prayers and meditations during the Days of Awe:
· Some people take a fast from speech during the High Holy Days. Nachman of Breslov said, “On the first day of Rosh Hashanah people should be very careful to speak as little as possible. The greater the person, the more careful he must be.”
· Others avoid all but essential conversation, and recite the penitential prayers of the liturgy at a whisper.
· In my congregation, Makom Ohr Shalom, we have a two-hours long, speech-free, meditative “healing-service” during the afternoon of Yom Kippur. Others take a quiet walk in nature.
· Before sounding the shofar, it is announced in many congregations that, “Silence is proper at the time of sounding the shofar and its blessings.”
However you can, quieting the mind during the High Holy Days will help you hear the still small voice within the shofar that calls you to teshuvah. In that place of quietude, the shofar blows will be experienced as true blasts that can open the Gates of Repentance.
“We must finally make up our minds to adopt the hypothesis that the psychical precipitates of the primeval period became inherited property which, in each fresh generation, called not for acquisition but only for awakening.”
Theodor Reik, Freud’s protégé, uses psychoanalytic techniques to decipher the origin and meaning of religious ritual in the same way that he would study neurosis. By putting the Torah “on the couch,” he looks for meaning in the discrepancies and ambiguities of what the patient says. For example, he interprets Exodus 19, the events at Mount Sinai, as follows:
“We will now consider some questions, contradictions and disparities in this description. A horn is to sound, but who is to blow it? The sound of the horn becomes louder and louder, Moses speaks and God answers loudly. Why the accompanying noise? The people see the smoking mountain, hear the sound of the horn and are terrified and afraid. This very same people assert that they have heard God’s voice; but they have only heard the sound of the trumpet. I think that the conclusion cannot be rejected that all these contradictions can be solved at once if we assume that the sound of the horn is God’s voice.”
In the Torah, Reik sees other evidence that Judaism evolved from a cult of the Ram. Exodus 34:29, for example, says that when Moses descended from Mount Sinai, his face “keren ohr “Keren” can mean either “radiant with horns” or “radiated light.” (See Meditation for 11th Day of Elul in Volume One.) While modern translators usually interpret the verse as “shined with light,” the editors of the Vulgate translate it to mean that Moses was “horned.” Reik believes,
“The Vulgate…is right. Moses is horned; he bears the symbol of the animal-god feared and admired of old in the primitive period, a symbol which only gave way to the more sublime attribute of light in the course of the centuries.”
But to the psychoanalyst, even these observations do not explain why Jews continue to cling “obsessively” to the rite of shofar blowing; there must be something very primal that continues to compel us. Reik advances a theory for this “neurotic” behavior by expanding on Freud’s theory that, in the “primitive horde” of early humans, the archetypical adolescent male killed his all-powerful father, a theme that resonates in Oedipus and other ancient myths. Many religious rituals derived from the son’s efforts to expiate guilt resulting from this action while, simultaneously, taking on the symbols of the father (horns, for example, representing the father’s sexual powers).
As culture advanced, this patricide was transferred into a sacrifice of a totem animal that represented the power of the father-figure. Reik suggests that the bull or calf was the original totem of the Hebrews. The events at Sinai, with shofar blowing and the destruction of the golden calf, amounted to a rebellion against the bull father-figure by the son, Moses who substituted a new totem, the ram, in place of the father.
Jubal shown in relief by Giotto and Andrea Pisano on entry to Duomo Campanile in Florence. (14th Cent.)
With this in mind, his exegesis continues with a close reading of Genesis 4:21, the verse that identifies Jubal, a descendent of Cain, “as the father of all who play the harp or flute” and, by extension, the discoverer of all forms of music:
“In the Bible, the invention of music is ascribed to an ordinary mortal whose name only is known to us… We have found it striking that the name Jubal coincides with the word jôbel, which means ram’s horn. We learn, however, from the dictionary that the word jôbel in Ashkenazic Hebrew or jovel in Sephardic Hebrew in itself really signifies ram, and only ram’s horn in a transferred sense. If we have the courage to take the statement in the Bible literally we can then translate it: the ram which is the father of all those who play the flute and zither… The Oriental method of expression, ‘the father,’ may be taken literally, for it was the sons who imitated the roaring of the father in the primitive society. We must not forget that in spite of this the text of the Biblical passage has come down to us censored and mutilated–the common noun, ram, has been changed into a proper noun in order to conceal the derivation from totemism. Two kinds of instruments, one of which, the flute, undeniably originated from the bones of an animal, have appeared instead of the horn of the shofar in a way that recalls obsessional neurotic displacement. We may even suppose that the name of the original totem animal, the bull, was replaced by the later one, the ram. This process would correspond to the prohibition against using a bull’s horn as shofar and to the introduction of a ram’s horn into the ritual… We have recognized that the hidden meaning of this tale lies in the fact that the tribe had imitated the sounds of its totem animal in the holy songs which made up an essential part of its religious ritual… It seems probable that the sons imitated the voice of their slain father after the conflict in the primal horde. We find this father, or rather a later father-figure, the totem animal, in the Biblical saga–the ram is the father of those making music… The sons who had taken possession of the father’s dead body and believed they had gained possession of the paternal characteristics had great-grandsons who identified themselves with the paternal totem animal by…imitation of its voice…”
One does not have to accept this theory to appreciate that it addresses a fundamental question: What is it about the shofar’s sounds that has enabled the ritual to remain so rich in meaning after thousands of years?
There need not be an argument between religious and “scientific” attempts to explain human activities. They are parallel paths that have different, non-intersecting criteria for measurement.
Reik says, “The believers…who endow the shofar-blowing with such strong effects behave unconsciously.” But consciousness does not have to be the enemy of belief. Instead, consciously understanding and embracing the shofar’s origin as the totem of our ancient cult can make our shofar experience even more awesome. Whether the ritual originated in divine revelation or as the manifestation of a repressed memory, the shofar still echoes in an ancient, primal place in our soul and psyche.
More, we must remember that Reik’s work was based on theoretical constructs that are now more than 100 years old; while Freud’s work continues to inform psychology, it was not the last word on the subject. For example, orthodox Freudian theory was shaped without more recent advances in anthropology, leading one reviewer of Reik’s book to say, “much of the anthropological work of Freud (and Reik) may be as much myth as anthropology.”
More recent psychoanalysts have followed new paths into the unconscious. For example, Slavoj Zizek, exploring the meaning of language and sound, cites shofar to illustrate some of his beliefs. Referring to the theophany at Sinai, he says, “...at the very moment when the reign of (symbolic) Law was being instituted (in what Moses was able to discern as the articulated Commandments), the crowd waiting below Mount Sinai apprehended only the continuous, non-articulated sound of the shofar: the voice of the shofar is an irreducible supplement of the (written) Law.” He explains shofar is, “a kind of ‘vanishing mediator’ between the mythical direct vocal expression of the pre-symbolic life-substance and articulated speech...this strange sound...is strictly analogous to the unconscious act of establishing the difference between the unconscious vortex of drives and the field of Logos…”
The followers of Carl Jung offer another psychological perspective on shofar. In Jung’s view, the unconscious is more than just a repository of repressed emotions and desires; it also has creative capacity and provides a door to understanding the psyche through dreams, art, mythology and religion. Archetypes in the collective unconsciousness are shared by all cultures and individuals and shape the way we experiences the symbols and shaping the symbolic dramas we enact. And, “symbols,” according to Jung, “are never simple – only signs and allegories are simple. The symbol always covers a complicated situation which is so far beyond the grasp of language that it cannot be expressed at all in any unambiguous manner.”
The prevalence of the ram in Hebrew history and the associated rituals of the shofar are just such symbols, and we are left to interpret the contemporary meaning of the ram sacrificed in the Akedah. According to Jung, “The animal sacrifice, where it has lost its original meaning as an offered gift and has taken on a higher religious significance, has an inner relationship to the hero or god. The animal represents the god himself; thus the bull represents Dionysus, Zagreus and Mithra; the lamb Christ, etc.”
In the view of Gustav Dreifuss, one of the first Jungian psychologists in Israel, the shofar,
“…traces the motif of the horn back to an early form of a nature-God, namely a ram-God… The ram of the Akedah represents God himself, or more accurately, an aspect of God or a pre-jahwistic godhead (Babylonia and Egypt). From this point of view, God, at the beginning of the Akedah, is shown in his ram-aspect or as a pre-biblical godhead, demanding a human sacrifice of the first born son, Isaac. In the course of Abraham’s preparations (the three days) and his obedience, God becomes conscious of his impulsive, natural and animal side, and sacrificed this side of himself in the ram, saving Isaac, Abraham, himself and his creation from destruction. The Akedah therefore portrays the transformation of the godhead.”
He explains this further,
“This has to do with the change in the God-image in post-biblical times, where there is a tendency to see evil no longer within God himself but in the figure of Satan. The prayers relate that God, in his justice, wrath and anger demanded the sacrifice of Isaac, but changed from wrath to mercy… The pious man hopes for the same change in the godhead with regard to his own sins and possible punishment… God is asked to remember his own capacity for compassion. Abraham’s readiness for the sacrifice brought the change in the godhead. The pious man, by his readiness for sacrifice, (which is no longer an animal, but penitence, prayer and charity,) can avert the evil decree. With growing consciousness the psychic content is no longer projected into the animal, but experienced within; the sacrifice is then a change of one’s own attitude.”
The shofar is a primitive legacy that survives because of its unconscious associations. As Jung writes, “the world of primitive feeling is not entirely lost to us; it lives on in the unconscious.” Jung cautioned that contemporary people rely too heavily on science and logic and would benefit from better integration with spirituality and an appreciation of the unconscious realm, saying, “The very fact that we in our age come to speak of the unconscious at all is proof that everything is not in order.” The Jew, for example, “is badly at a loss for that quality in man which roots him to the earth and draws new strength from below.” If this is true, perhaps it explain why the earthiness of the shofar has such a powerful attraction to us as it provides a ritualized way to recharge our chthonic energy.
From this perspective, the shofar ritual also keeps Jews in touch with the symbolism of the animal. Jung wrote, “when the animal within us is split off from consciousness by being repressed, it may easily burst out in full force, quite unregulated and uncontrolled. An outburst of this sort always ends in catastrophe – the animal destroys itself.” We see this in the incident at the golden calf, where – relieved of the strictures of slavery – we gave into our animal nature without the regulation of a code of law, leading to the destruction of the idol and its worshippers. He continues, “If every individual had a better relation to the animal within him, he would also set a higher value on life.” This can explains why we use the intercession of an animal’s voice, as represented by shofar, as we undergo the symbolic death and rebirth of the New Year.
The shofar blasts also commemorate, according to Dreifuss,
“…the annual recreation of the universe by the Eternal who reigns over it. The annual creation alludes to the archetypal motif of death and rebirth, which in the rite is experienced as the inner renewal of man, identifying with Isaac, who was, so to speak at the last moment, saved from death and reborn… The ram appeared at the critical moment, between life and death of Isaac; the blowing of the shofar recalls this crucial numinous moment.”
Dreifuss also point to the magical power of the shofar.
“This has to do with an early concept, that the rising of the sun is dependent on the forces of light (sun, day) overcoming the dark forces (moon, night). Man has, so to speak, to help the forces of light to overcome darkness. This archetypal idea is formulated religiously as ‘God needing man’ or psychologically as the need of the self to be considered by the ego.”
This helps to explain the many midrashim that prescribe blowing the shofar to cancel the power of Satan, the personification of darkness. It also relates to the observance of Rosh Hashanah during the dark of the new moon, unlike most Jewish festivals that are celebrated on the full moon.
With regards to the self and sexual identities, he comments,
“The shofar, containing the opposites of nature and spirit, represents the paradoxical God-image… The term “self” corresponds to the God-image; it is the central archetype and its symbols are numinous… The shofar, as a symbol of the self, unites…the masculine-feminine opposites; masculine in its phallic form, alluding to the strength and vigour of the ram and feminine in its form as a vessel, container, a horn of plenty, a cornucopia.”
While blowing the shofar is a symbol, its magical power is none-the-less real.
“The magical effect of the rite is factual enough, and in no sense illusory… The magic rite, like all magic and indeed every higher intention, including that of religion, acts upon the subject who practices the magic or the religion by altering and enhancing his own ability to act… An effect that proceeds from an alteration in the subject is objective and real.”
Dreifuss similarly states,
“The blowing of the shofar transforms the happening of the Akedah from an historical to an actual, symbolic level, to be experienced anew every year. The ‘Chazan’ (prayer-leader) and the blower of the horn fulfill the priestly function, actualizing psychologically a historical event… During the blowing of the horn on New Year, God is actually felt present in time and space; in his destructive aspect as in his life-saving, redeeming aspect, renouncing the sacrifice.”
Without its many unconscious meanings, would the shofar be such a powerful symbol? Jung writes,
“One is reminded of the story of the young rabbi who was a pupil of Kant’s. One day an old rabbi came to guide him back to the faith of his fathers, but all arguments were in vain. At last the old rabbi drew forth the ominous shofar, the horn that is blown at the cursing of heretics (as happened to Spinoza), and asked the young man if he knew what it was. “Of course I know,” answered the young man coolly, “it is the horn of a ram.” At that the old rabbi reeled back and fell to the ground in horror.
“What is the shofar? It is also only the horn of a ram. Sometimes a symbol can be no more than that, but only when it is dead. The symbol is killed when we succeed in reducing the shofar to a ram’s horn. But again, through symbolization a ram’s horn can become the shofar.”
Over time, our understanding, conscious and unconscious, of the shofar symbolism can change. It is in this way that the symbol has remained very much alive for several millennia and continues to thrive in our generation.
“Jewish shamanism is about a way of consciousness that perceives magic in the ordinary, miracle in the “natural course of events." Where most people will be awestruck at the sight of a passing comet, the Jewish shaman will be awestruck at the sight of a fallen leaf. It is about engaging the Creator Spirit in clear and open relationship in the course of which the veil between spirit and matter grows thinner and thinner and we no longer experience ourselves as observers of this wondrous planet, but as integral components of it.”
Excavate through layer upon layer of civilizations and the influences of many cultures, and one finally arrives at the origins of Judaism as an aboriginal Semitic people. Living in the hills and deserts of the Fertile Crescent, our ancestors were acutely aware of and connected to all the wonders of creation. This awareness is captured in Torah when, “God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’” The plural pronouns imply, “that the Creator addressed all of creation before making the human, meaning that in creating the human, the Infinite One incorporated all of the attributes of all the animals and plants and minerals and so on that had been created up to this point. In each of us, then, are the powers of all the creatures of the earth.”
Shamans from every ancient earth-based wisdom tradition understand this concept. They can sense the energies and intelligence – some would say the spirits – of the earth and the plants and animals that flow around and through us. By aligning themselves with these spirits, shamans can use their energy for healing. This may be the mastery that Torah refers to when we are told to “fill the earth and master it.” Shamanism is “being so present in the known world that the unknown becomes second nature.”
The sacred texts of Judaism are full of shamanism. Our ancestors “knew the language of the trees and the grasses, the songs of the frogs and the cicadas, the thoughts of horses and sheep. They followed rivers to discover truths, and climbed mountains to liberate their spirits. They journeyed beyond their bodily limitations, brought people back from the dead, healed the incurable, talked raging rivers into holding back their rapids, turned pints into gallons, brought down the rains in times of drought, walked through fire, even suspended the orbit of the earth around the sun.” It was, of course, God acting when Moses turned his staff into a serpent or parted the Red Sea, but it was God acting through His shaman.
Traces of shamanism still abound in Judaism. We need look no further than the practice of waving the lulav and etrog in the six cardinal directions in a ritual for a good harvest, or the kaparot ritual, still practiced by many, of waving a live chicken over our heads on Rosh Hashanah in a gesture of sympathetic magic for a good new year.
The growing awareness of the damage being done to Earth’s ecosystem by industrialized society is causing many Jews to reassess our relationship to the planet. Is it enough, for example, to slaughter an animal in a kosher manner but overlook that it was raised on an mechanized feedlot that creates polluting runoff from its manure, abuse antibiotics to control diseases spread by overcrowding, and feeds its herd grains dosed with chemicals derived from fossil fuels that were extracted in a country that uses petro-dollars to finance war and repression? Or must we now look for a new standard of eco-kosher?
When we start asking questions like this, we discover that the shofar can be powerful medicine. “At times, the horn of a ram, or shofar, is employed for the healing ceremony, sometimes as a conduit for directing herbal smoke as in smudging, and sometimes as a way of shifting the breath, as with other shamanic traditions where the shaman blows healing breath into the patient. The shofar is believed to wield the power of shattering any factors of resistance to healing that might be present.”
Time and again, I have witnessed the shofar’s power to heal the spiritual and emotional wounds that afflict so many people. When I taught my friend Pam, to blow shofar, for example, she gave a long and stirring blast, and then started shaking and crying. Calming, after a few minutes, she explained that she had felt a wave of relief in which she was able to commune with her dead mother and complete the mourning process. What had not happened in years of therapy happened in a single breath. As a personal example, I was experiencing a deep depression and had not responded to the medications that had been prescribed. My wife prescribed a vacation and brought me to Big Sur, one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Yet I could feel no joy or delight. In a funk, I picked up a piece of kelp that had dried into a natural hose-like tube on the beach and without forethought, brought it to my lips and sounded it like a shofar. Instantly, the beach around me transformed from a silent, black and white film noir to a surround-sound, Technicolor spectacular and I started laughing and playing in the waves. While it was not a ram’s horn, the tekiah blast restored me to the wholeness I experience blowing shofar.
A congregational rabbi describes her experience of the shofar’s power to heal this way:
“Towards the end of Yom Kippur, there are always some people who look and feel dejected: they tried hard, but just aren’t sure they ‘got it’ that year. They feel the weight of unfinished business; they wonder if all the introspection and prayers can really change anything. And then the final shofar blast comes, and it actually seems to blast away the remnants of doubt and sin. The haunting sound of the shofar somehow – through its vibration and its history – bestows grace. I have seen the physical transformation, the relief. And I have heard it described by people who experience the final, grand blast as…a mystery.”
Will such personal healings help heal the ailments of the planet? You bet they will! Because without wholeness within the individual, there can be no wholeness in the world. Our daily prayers say, “May the one who creates wholeness in the heavens create wholeness on earth.” This understanding is expressed in other traditions as “As above, so below.” Hearing the shaman’s shofar call awakens us to tzadakah, teshuvah and tefillah, a three-step program for tikkun olam, the healing of the world and ourselves.
Many ancient wisdom traditions invoke the concept of the four elements – earth, air, fire and water – as a system for understanding the world around them. The concept informs Judaism as well. For example, Abraham Ibn Ezra, who lived in Spain in the 11th and 12th centuries, wrote:
“Everything under the sun is composed of four elements, from which all things come forth, and to which all return. These elements are fire, air, water, and earth. The four elements are naturally stationary, and in case of having been set in motion they return to the state they were in before. They (that is, “matter”) are indestructible. At the time of the beginning earth was covered with water; over the water was air; and over the air, fire.”
These views influenced Maimonides who wrote:
“There are four bodies (gufim), and they are fire (aish), air (ruach), water (mayim), and earth (afar). They are the foundation of all that is created beneath the firmament. All that comes from human or beast or bird or creeping thing or fish or plant or metal or precious stones or pearls or other building stones or mountains or the substance of earth, the form (golem) of all things is composed from these four foundations… They do not travel through knowledge or will, but rather according to the plan (minhag) that has been set for them.”
When used in ritual, shofar has the versatility to represent any of the elements:
Earth: The horn itself represents earth, growing as it does on an animal that inhabits the earth. Horn imagery, such as the cornucopia, testifies to the bounty of the earth.
Air: Our breath, flowing through shofar, is an integral part of the unitary mass of air called the atmosphere.
Fire: We have several metaphors that link fire to shofar. Fire is usually used during the fabrication of shofar, softening horn so it can be shaped. Shofar’s sound, like fire, is a manifestation of energy. Air can be blown through a tube to stoke a fire; shofar is a tube, and its call stokes the embers of teshuvah to ignite us into actions of tzadakah. More, prayers expressed through shofar are an expression of the fire in our souls, the equivalent of the flames on the altar.
Water: Even with openings at both ends, shofar is an effective vessel to hold water and was used in ages past for drinking and ritual imbibing (see Chapter 3-6 – The Ram’s Horn of Passover). More, our sages permit us to pour liquids through the shofar before blowing.  While this act is allowed, ostensibly, to make shofar easier to sound, it may also be a nod toward creating union between the four elements.
This may explain why shofar is often more effective than words for expressing prayer: “The Zohar teaches that the voice is comprised of three elements: fire or warmth from the heart, wind or air drawn into the lungs, and water, the natural moisture in the lungs. These combine in the throat region to create the spoken word.” Without the horn to add the earth element, speech is an incomplete medium.
I experience this union of all four elements when I blow shofar. I wash the shofar in a ritual of purification, reciting a blessing similar to that used in hand washing: al nitiyat shofar – Bless God, the sovereign of the universe, who has commanded us to lift the shofar. I stand without shoes for intimate contact with earth and grasp the horn, a product of the earth, firmly in my hands. I inhale consciously, and remain aware of the air within me and around me as I exhale. And I listen to the spiritual fire in the voice of shofar.
Earth. Air. Fire. Water.
“When you enter a town, follow its customs.”
We learn from the above teaching that customs vary from place to place. Traditions also change over time to meet different circumstances, as demonstrated by the following legacy from our past:
“Unlike all other mitzvot, which we do as early in the day as possible, the mitzvah of shofar blowing is delayed until after the Torah reading. Why? In the days of the Roman rule in Eretz Yisrael, the authorities outlawed shofar blowing. To enforce their decree, they placed guards in all shuls to make sure that the shofar was not sounded. Expecting the Jews to blow the shofar early in the morning, the guards waited till noon. When no shofar blowing took place, they left. It was then that the shofar was sounded. This practice, rooted in distress, became an established custom. We likewise postpone the shofar blowing until after the Torah reading.”
If we accept that traditions change, we no longer have to limit shofaring to the High Holy Days. Indeed, there are a myriad of mostly abandoned shofar traditions waiting to be dusted off and put back into the fabric of our lives. More, we can incorporate shofar into what Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi calls “davvenology” – the exploration of new forms of prayer and worship that can adopt tradition to contemporary circumstances. And as Jews reconnect with the shofar as an important cultic symbol, shofar is finding its way into music and other cultural expressions.
Talmud describes how the shofar was used to call laborers from the field in time to prepare for Shabbat.
This manuscript, now in the British Museum, shows a horn blower (on left) signaling workers in the field.
“Six blasts were blown on the eve of the Sabbath. The first, for people to cease work in the fields; the second, for the city and shops to cease [work]; the third, for the lights to be kindled… Then there was an interval for as long as it takes to bake a small fish, or to put a loaf in the oven, and then a tekiah, teruah, and a tekiah were blown and one commenced the Sabbath.”
“In the Temple, they never blew the trumpet less than twenty-one times a day, nor oftener than forty-eight times… On the eve of the Sabbath, they blew six times more: thrice to interdict the people from doing work, and thrice to separate the holy day from the work day.”
This Hebrew instruction, found in excavations outside the outer walls of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, directs us, “to the place of trumpeting.” (1st BCE)
It is still used to announce Shabbat at some Jewish summer camps, and can be adapted for use domestically:
“I have found these practices to greatly enhance the joy-oneg of Shabbat. Following the Talmud in Shabbat, I brought a shofar which we blew six times prior to candle lighting… Blowing the shofar is a dramatic 'havdalah,’ differentiation from the week of work and stress. It signifies renewal and links up Shabbat with Rosh Hashanah. I have also learned that Jews never tire of hearing the shofar and that it has very positive associations. One suggestion: Let a kid blow the shofar. It helps him or her feel that Shabbat is special.”
Beyond Elul and the High Holy Days, the call of the shofar can be employed to mark many Jewish rituals and festivals:
Rosh Hodesh: While a silver trumpet was blown in the Temple at the new moon, a shofar is a fitting accompaniment to contemporary observances.
Sukkot: The Biblical injunction to sound the horn on the new moon festivals applies to Sukkot. In the Second Temple, the shofar was sounded every day of the Festival. In some Sephardic communities, the practice continues on Hashanah Rabbah, the final day of the Festival. The tonal sound of the shofar can be combined with the percussive rhythm of shaking the lulav to create a sonic field appropriate to the holy days.
Hanukah: References to “trumpets” in 1 Maccabees announce themes that underlie the holiday. For example, we learn the importance of the faith that undergirded the Hasmodean revolt:
“They fasted that day, put on sackcloth and sprinkled ashes on their heads, and rent their clothes…and they cried aloud to Heaven, saying, "…How will we be able to withstand them, if thou dost not help us?" Then they sounded the trumpets and gave a loud shout.”
We recall their struggle at arms:
“Then the men with Judas blew their trumpets and engaged in battle. The Gentiles were crushed and fled into the plain, and all those in the rear fell by the sword.”
And we are called to rededicate ourselves as they rededicated the Temple:
“Then said Judas and his brothers, ‘Behold, our enemies are crushed; let us go up to cleanse the sanctuary and dedicate it.’ …They fell face down on the ground, and sounded the signal on the trumpets, and cried out to Heaven. Then Judas detailed men to fight against those in the citadel until he had cleansed the sanctuary.”
More, Psalms say to blow shofar on the new moon, an event that coincides with the final night of Hanukah, on Rosh Hodesh Tevet when the month of Tevet begins.
Shofar imagery in this glass menorah recalls the trumpet blasts of the Maccabean struggle.
As you light you hanukiah - Hanukah candelabra, listen closely. In the quiet whisper of the burning flames you may still hear the timeless blare of the ram's horn calling us to dedicate ourselves to the cause of freedom. Better yet, blow the shofar to help, “retell the things that befell us.”
Tu B’shevat: In many communities, it is customary to eat the dried fruit pods from carob trees on this holiday. Carob has an etymological link to shofar. The tree is called keratia in Greek and ceratonia in Latin, both terms that mean “horn” and related to keren, Hebrew for “horn” – clear references to the carob pod’s flat, curved shape and hard texture. Midieval Germans call it bockshorn, meaning “a buck’s or ram’s horn,” and this was corrupted into the Yiddish word, bokser. So as we enjoy eating the “ram’s horn” of Tu B’shevat, the “New Year of the Trees,” we can reminisce on the ram’s horn of Rosh Hashanah, the “New Year of Creation.”
Dried carob pod shows similarity to curved shape of shofar.
Purim: “That makes as much sense as reading the Megillah – the book of Esther – on Rosh Hashanah and blowing the shofar on Purim.” The expression suggests that something is meshuge – Yiddish for nonsense. While it is customary to make loud noises during the reading of the Megillah – the Book of Esther, some might say that would be meshuge to sound a shofar to drown out the name of Haman, the villain of the Purim story. From a historical perspective, however, and with a deeper understanding of the issues, shofar blasts may be the most appropriate noisemaker to use on Purim.
For example, midrash tells us that during Esther’s fast:
“Mordechai gathered around him the Jewish…children from all the Jewish schools. Sitting in sackcloth and ashes, in the manner of mourners, the children raised their voices in weeping and prayer to God day and night… Heartbroken, the mothers rushed to their children, bringing them food and water. But the brave little children swore that they would rather perish in the fast. ‘We shall remain here with our dear Mordechai until we are torn from him by force,’ they declared. At that moment, twelve thousand Jewish kohanim, priests, each one holding a scroll of the Torah in one hand and a shofar in the other, raised their voices with prayers and supplications to the Almighty: ‘0 God of Israel!’ they cried, ‘If Your chosen people perish, who will study Your Torah? Who will praise Your holy name? Answer us, 0 God, answer us!’"
Haman’s edict to exterminate Jews throughout the Persian Empire was a crisis of the highest order. During times of crisis, we are mandated by Torah to sound trumpets, a practice further elaborated upon by the laws of fasting (See Chapter 3-5 – Beyond the Days of Awe). From this perspective, sounding shofar Purim reminds us that our salvation from Haman’s scheme was dependent upon the collective repentance and prayer of the Jewish people. Even though God is not mentioned in the Book of Esther, our sages make it clear that our fate was determined by the King of Kings; God heard our cries, vocal and shofaric, and found merit in our teshuvah. A shofar blast in the midst our Purim merry making reminds us that, even when God seems hidden, we must have faith.
As the events in the Persian court unfolded, the procession leading Haman to the gallows was, “joined by the kohanim blowing trumpets to herald the condemned Haman.” Then, after Mordecai is appointed viceroy, “Palace pages with trumpets escorted him through the streets of Shusan…” The trumpets in the former instance were almost certainly the same shofarot the priests had blown during the fast, while the later were probably silver trumpets suitable for use by the royal court, perhaps even the trumpets taken by the Babylonians from when they sacked the Temple in Jerusalem. These traditions reflect the spirit with which we make noise during the Megillah reading – to blot out the memory of Haman and to laud our heroes.
Mordechai being led through city, acclaimed by “trumpets”.
Passover: See Chapter 3-6 – The Ram’s Horn of Passover.
Counting the Omer: There is a parallel between the 49-day cycle of counting the Omer (between the second day of Passover and Shavuot, the anniversary of receiving Torah ) and the 49-year cycle leading to the Yovel (Jubilee year). Torah was received amidst blasts of shofar, and Yovel is announced by sounding shofar.
Shavuot: What could be more appropriate than sounding the shofar on the anniversary of the sounding of shofar ßduring revelation at Sinai! A contemporary study guide for Shavuot aims to recreate a sense of the awe experienced at Sinai. It suggests gathering in a darkened and quiet room where, “a participant sounds the shofar, at first softly and then louder and louder.” as a prelude to study.
To Announce a Death or Funeral: Some communities blow the shofar while preparing a body for burial, and others at funerals and burials. A precedent to blowing “Taps” on a bugle serves the same function as the modern rendition – to focus the attention of those within earshot, express the feelings of the community, and accompany the spirit’s transition to another realm.
It also expresses the image of the resurrection of the dead when the Messiah comes, accompanied by the sounding of “the great horn,” and pleads for God to judge the deceased and the community with mercy and not strictness.
Hand Washing: Jewish hand washing rituals typically use a pitcher with two handles so that water can be poured on each hand without an already washed hand having to grasp a handle that has been dirtied by the other hand. The same effect can be achieved with a shofar. This potential was brought to my attention by an innovative and elegant ritual “washing cup”; the cup is a glass cylinder that is bent in a distinctly hornlike curve and open at both ends like a shofar.
Other Occasions: Shofar is blown to seal an excommunication, has been blown in the mikvah during conversion rituals, and I have heard it blown at a “creative” Jewish wedding after the breaking of the glass.
The use of loud noises as a tool to free a soul from demonic possession is surely an ancient practice, and the shofar is the tool of choice in the ritual to remove a dybbuk. The term “dybbuk” comes from the Hebrew verb “ledavek” – to cling. It refers to a wandering or restless soul of a dead person that inhabits or clings to the body of another living person.
Today, we would most likely diagnose a person exhibiting a dybbuk as having mental illness. Medical science recognizes that physical manifestations of disease can have psychological or emotional origins; perhaps someday we will again recognize that illness can also be spiritual in origin. If so, then perhaps exorcism will once again become an accepted part of the healing arts. Chapter 3-4 – The Shaman’s Shofar, describes several uses of shofar to cure spiritual malaise.
According to one contemporary rabbi who has conducted exorcisms, “We blow the ram’s horn in a certain way, with certain notes, in effect to shatter the body, so to speak. So that the soul who is possessing will be shaken loose. After is has been shaken loose, we can begin to communicate with it and ask it what it is here for. We can pray for it and do a ceremony for it to enable it to feel safe and finished so that it can leave the person’s body.”
Just as loud noises have been used throughout the ages to free the individual gripped in crisis, so too has the shofar been used to as a tool to confront calamities that befall a community. Torah tells us to make trumpets to summon the community, and it is through collective action that most trials can be overcome. She also tells us, “When you are at war in your land against an aggressor who attacks you, you shall sound…the trumpets that you may be remembered before the Lord your God and be delivered from your enemies.”
While the text implies that God should remember us, the sounding shofar also has the effect of awaking us so we remember who we are, for it is through teshuvah – returning to our true purpose, that we are able to take the steps necessary to overcome adversity.
“It is a positive mitzvah – holy commandment – from the Torah to sound and announce with trumpets any time tragedy besets [the community]… This is a method of doing teshuvah. When adversity occurs and we cry out and announce it, everyone will know that it is because of our bad deeds . . . and this will cause the suffering to depart from them. However, if we do not trumpet and announce it and instead say that this is just a coincidence, just something natural that is happening to us; this is insensitivity and cruelty. It causes them to remain steadfast in their evil deeds and other tragedies will be added to their suffering.”
In the past, disasters calling for trumpeting included war, plant disease, drought, famine, and locust as examples calling for trumpeting. For example,
“…in antiquity a locust plague and other noxious insects were widely regarded as divine punishment meted out on the sinful. In such cases nothing could be done except to submit meekly in penitence, offer up prayers, offerings or other rituals as prescribed by the respective religions… In the Jewish tradition, in Biblical times, reliance was placed chiefly on the mercy of the Lord by praying and proclaiming a fast and a solemn assembly. In the Talmudic literature locusts are included among the disasters for which the alarm of the shofar was sounded and a public fast held.”
Today we have sirens and emergency broadcast systems to notify people of physical danger. Yet the shofar remains a powerful tool for alerting the community to spiritual dangers, including the dangers of unjust wars and of plagues and droughts caused by poor stewardship of the planet.
In the ancient world, the shofar was our basic telecommunications technology. If a shepherd needed help in the field, for example, he or she would blow a horn to summon anyone within earshot. It has been blown in times of war to call the charge and will, I hope, be blown to announce the peace. Because it is no longer used for such secular service, its voice is more available for our use in a wider range of spiritual and ritual applications.
In the broader community, I have blown shofar in conclaves such as:
· A ceremony marking the completion of a yearlong course of spiritual study.
· While dancing around a campfire on retreat with a men’s drumming circle.
· At a ritual of forgiveness during a workshop connected to a Twelve Step program.
· As a spiritual alternative to blowing candles at a birthday party.
Invariably, when I blow shofar in a venue such as these, someone comes up to me later to tell me that he or she had been estranged from their faith, but that something inside them was stirred when they heard the shofar. This is an example of how deeply seated the shofar is in the Jewish soul and how it can be like the shepherd’s horn calling the flock to return. Many non-Jews have similar responses to the call of shofar.
I also use shofar in more personal ways. For example, I have blown shofar:
· When I have moved out of or into a house as part of my personal ritual of spiritually cleansing the house; the shofar blast acting as a sonic mikvah for the premises.
· In moments of private prayer when I had no words with which to call or acknowledge God.
· In the spirit of the Jubilee, to mark the satisfaction of a debt or the beginning of a sabbatical.
· To wake myself up when I have found myself in places of spiritual darkness. And,
· At moments of great joy to trumpet my gratitude.
Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb uses the shofar in intercultural workshops. At an intercultural encampment in Southern California, traditional land of the Chumash nation, for example, “we blew shofar and conch shell together, Chumash and Jewish sounds – and talked about each of our traditions relating to the instruments. I am doing a lot of teaching about a concept I call Shomer Shalom [guardian of peace]. I always use the shofar to create a meditation for peace, talking about the blasts as a reconciliation process.”
Scholars argue whether the shofar is a “musical instrument” or merely a “noise maker.” The distinction turns on the kavanah – the context in and intention with which it is blown. To call workers from the field in preparation for the Sabbath, it is a noise maker. To inspire feelings and ideas, however, it is musical.
British composer Malcolm Miller has used shofar in many of his compositions, and says:
“The shofar has generated a rich nexus of metaphorical tropes, those of supernatural power, joy, freedom, victory, deliverance, national identity, moral virtue, repentance, social justice, and many other topics… At the heart of the matter is the appreciation of the shofar as not merely a functional instrument, as often believed, but a ‘musical’ one, whose propensity to evoke a profound aesthetic response has led to multiple interpretations of its symbolism. Particularly in the twentieth/twenty-first centuries, composers have drawn on the shofar as a powerfully eloquent musical resource in their works… This symbolic capacity, a potential for evoking ideas, is integral to a ‘musical’ performance.”
“The extent to which the shofar in the Psalms is a medium for expression of moods also highlights its musicality, placing it alongside the more conventional musical instruments, such as strings, winds, and percussion.
“The symbolism of the shofar has become attuned to the aesthetics of modernism and post-modernism, a confrontation and reconciliation of regional and global tendencies, of folk and art, of individual and community.” Pg 98
“The rich symbolism of the shofar is an expression of its essentially musical role, its ability to generate aesthetic experience. It has been, in that sense, an artistic instrument since its biblical beginnings, expressed first in its capacity to evoke memory, zichron, on the New Year particularly, and as a celebratory instrument. Its ancient symbolism of the earthly as well as the transcendental…underline a capacity to ilicit spiritual experience. It is an experience permeated at a profound level with ideas deriving from military or ceremonial usage, and which reinterpret ancient notions of national identity, destruction, loss, hope, and redemption within the communal and personal context of Jewish history. Reaching back to Biblical and post-biblical sources, generations of composers have transformed the shofar’s traditional meanings in new contexts… Whether in the concert hall or synagogue, the shofar retains its power to remind one of the constancy of the natural world in the context of ever changing technology. Its sound resonates with the strength of the human spirit, its individual sound representing an individual being, heard and witnessed by the whole community. In contemporary music and liturgy it remains a potent symbol…to express faith in a new dawn for humanity.”
Indeed, the primal quality of the ram’s horn has found its way into many compositions. Sir Edward Elgar “was inspired by the mystical vision of the shofar sounding to announce the daybreak over the temple in Jerusalem in his oratorio ‘The Apostles.’” The opening chords of West Side Story’s score by Jewish composer Leonard Bernstein are the tekiah alarm of the shofar played on contemporary brass instruments. More recently, Argentine-Jewish composer Osvaldo Golijov created “Tekyah” for a Holocaust memorial concert. It is, “a ritualistic piece to be performed outdoors by klezmer solo clarinet, brass, a special type of accordion and 12 shofars.” He describes, “The shofars are many things, but I hear in them a primal howl of pain and at the same time the affirmation of Hitler's defeat." He was also commissioned by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO), where he is resident composer, to create “Rose of the Winds.” The piece has been described as a “bold yet seamless melding of musical resonances from Christian, Arabic and Jewish traditions and ear-catching instrumental sounds and colors representing numerous points of the compass.” The 20-minute piece includes “a Christian Arab Easter song, a Mexican prayer to the holy mother, a protest song from feudal Sardinia and an incantation capped off by the mighty wail of 10 shofars…played by the bulk of the CSO brass section.”
The shofar’s “world beat” has also found a place in popular and experimental music. I have sounded a shofar fanfare in a nightclub on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles, California to open a show “The Makkabees,” an earnest group of musicians who perform Jewish sacred music and Hebrew folksongs with a blasting heavy metal beat. A group called “Full Spectrum” issued a CD called “Kol Shofar” that features “An innovative and eclectic blend of Jazz, Reggae, Ska, Judaica, and Afro-Cuban music.” Rabbi Bob Gluck is on the Judaic Studies faculty at University of Albany where he is also a composer and directs the school’s Electronic Music Studies; his works feature, among other sound sources, an “electronically expanded eShofar” that is amplified and played with a sensor glove and digital interface. And musician/comedian David Zasloff entertains audiences with his ability to play almost any melody on a shofar.
The musical versatility of the shofar is suggested by program notes accompanying a piece commissioned for a 2006 concert at Jewish Music Institute in London:
Anniversary Fanfare for Solo Shofar, Shofar Chorus and Instrumental Ensemble
Malcolm Miller, composer
Prologue - Fanfare
I Persecution, II Immigration, III Struggle, IV Tradition, V Emancipation, VI Assimilation – Cadenza, VII Celebration
Epilogue - Fanfare
“The shofar… seems appropriate to mark the 350th Anniversary of Jews in Britain with its powerful, distinctive sound. I have aimed to reflect both the lyrical as well as signaling aspects of this instrument in this concertino-like work. The framing Fanfares are drawn from the traditional calls: Tekiah, Shevarim, and Teruah… The seven titled sections attempt to characterize aspects of Anglo-Jewish history to mark its sevenfold fifty-year Jubilee. Each varied mood is evoked though the shofar’s lyrical capability and the transformation of the traditional motifs in a variety of contemporary idioms, chromatic, atonal – textural. There are allusions to Ladino and Klezmer styles as well as to some familiar British themes.”
Do we run the risk that overexposure to shofar will reduce its primal power to move us during the Days of Awe? I doubt it. I hear the voice of the chazzan – cantor or prayer leader – sing every week. Yet that does not diminish the soul-stirring impact of hearing the Kol Nidre prayer sung on the eve of Yom Kippur.
My experience indicates that the reverse is true; blowing my shofar at significant moments and rituals throughout the year fills the horn full of prayers, supercharges the shofar, and adds spiritual resonance to my Rosh Hashanah blasts. What’s more, hearing the shofar throughout the year helps me retune myself to the intentions set during the Days of Awe. I am reminded of the story:
ago, a sheep herder in the hills of Idaho sent a letter to one of the national
radio programs in which he made a strange request. He explained that he
listened to the program every week and that the radio was his sole companion in
his lonely occupation. His old violin that he used to play was now so badly out
of tune as to be worthless. “I wonder if you would be kind enough," he
went on, “to pause on your ten o'clock program on Tuesday morning to strike an
“A" so that I might tune my violin and enjoy its music again." The
Shepherd's request was honored. On the ten o'clock program the following
Tuesday, the announcer read his unusual request to his nationwide audience and
then an “A" was sounded so that the shepherd might tune his violin and
play it again. On Rosh Hashanah God bids us to sound an “A" on the shofar
so that each of us might tune up the instrument of our lives and proceed to
play beautiful music.”
Some of us can stay in tune longer than others. I need, however, to hear an “A” now and then so I don’t get completely out of tune.
Context and kavanah – intention – determine the meaning of the shofar blasts, so the tekiah my wife sounded in celebration of her 50th birthday was nothing like her tekiah during Elul. And beyond tekiah, shevarim, and teruah – the prescribed blast for Rosh Hashanah, there is an entire Morse code of shofar calls, each with the potential to transmit a unique message. On Hanukah, I blow three tekiot to recall the three references to trumpets in Macabees. On Shavout, I start with a very soft blast and then increase the volume of each subsequent blast to honor the blasts at Sinai that grew louder and louder. And even though I am no Zasloff, I can still make shofar laugh and cry, waver between quiet and loud blasts, cup my hand over the end as a mute or whaa-whaa “pedal,” emulate the da-da-da-daaaam! theme of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, or spontaneously allow shofar to amplify and modulate the spiritual vibration emanating from within.
“Out of the narrow place I called upon God, who answered me in spaciousness.”
This Psalm, part of the Rosh Hashanah liturgy, can be understood as a reference to the shape of the shofar that begins narrow and becomes wide. It is also descriptive of the process of teshuvah, moving from the constricted space of the hardened heart to a place of redemption. Moreover, the Hebrew for “narrow place” is related to Mitzrayim – the Hebrew name for Egypt. Each year, the seder – ritual Passover meal – provides us an opportunity to liberate ourselves from the tight places in which we are constrained. Perhaps these are clues that can lead us to a finding new links between shofar and Passover.
In many traditions around the world, the new year is celebrated with noisemaking. And why not? The arrival of a new year, with all its potential and unknowns, is like the birth of a child that is announced with loud cries. The Jewish calendar has four new years. Rosh Hashanah, literally the “head of the year,” occurs on the first of Tishrei – the seventh month of the year. Balancing Rosh Hashanah’s autumnal occurrence, we reckon the months starting with Nissan in the springtime. This imbues Passover, starting on the 15th of Nissan, with a New Year’s type of energy that is also expressed by the Pascal celebration of the vernal rebirth of life and the telling of the Exodus – the emergence of the Hebrew nation from slavery to freedom.
While the sounding of the shofar is most closely associated with Rosh Hashanah, we are told to sound the ram’s horn on other festivals as well. Scripture says,
“Blow shofar…on the full moon for our feast day.”
Passover begins on a full moon and, indeed, the shofar was sounded in the Temple in Jerusalem every day of Passover. We are told, “The Israelites who were in Jerusalem kept the Feast of Unleaven Bread seven days, with great rejoicing, the Levites and the priests praising the Lord daily with loud instruments for the Lord.”
More, the memory of the ram, the carrier of the shofar, is deeply tied to our exodus. As the Psalmist says,
“When Israel went forth from Egypt…
hills like sheep.”
The ram motif ripples throughout Jewish history and religion. Our tradition say the ram of the Akedah, the binding of Isaac, was formed at twilight at the end of the Sixth Day of Creation, one of its horns sounded at Sinai, and the other will be blown with the coming of the Messiah. (See Chapter 3-1 – Shepherd Nation.) The significance of the ram as totem is reinforced each year at Passover when we recount how the blood of a young ram, “a yearling male,” painted on the doorposts and lintels of our houses, saved our lives on the eve of our liberation from slavery. We have to understand this as meaning not our fore parents lives, but our lives.
This Egyptian statue shows a ram - the Egyption god Amun (Ammon), protecting Pharaoh Kawa. From Sudan, 25th Dynasty, 7th Cent. BCE.
The use of the ram as the Pascal sacrifice is significant in another profound way:
“On the 10th of Nissan, which was a Shabbat, the Jews were commanded to take a lamb and keep it for the 14th day of Nissan. Then they were told to slaughter the lamb as a sacrifice to God and to place its blood on the outer doorpost of their homes… This was the Paschal Lamb. That the Jews were able to do this was itself a miracle; for the Egyptians also worshipped the sheep (the zodiac sign of the month of Nissan), yet now, the Jews were free to do with the Egyptian deity as they pleased.”
Our first act as a nation was to slay the god of our oppressor.
Honoring Humanity of Oppressors: Talmud explains that the shofar blasts of Rosh Hashanah should sound like the cries of Sisera’s mother as she fretted over her fate and that of her son, General Sisera who lead Canaanite army in attacks against the Israelites. We are told that she cried 101 times in her anguish. And while we blow shofar 100 times on Rosh Hashanah to drown out the tears of this woman who had no remorse for the evil done by her son, we must not negate the 101st cry, the cry of a mother intuiting that her son had been killed. (See Book One, Chapter 1-7 – The Ewe’s Horn.)
This same respect for the humanity of even our worst enemy is part of the Passover story. We are told that, when Pharaoh’s army drowned as they pursued the children of Israel, the angels started to rejoice. God admonished them by saying, “Are they not my children, too?” Thus, we spill drops of wine during the seder to diminish our joy as we remember the suffering of others.
On Seder Table: As a vegetarian, I do not use a lamb shank on my Pesash plate; instead, I use my shofar as the symbol of the Pascal lamb. Since antiquity, horns have been used as vessels; the flasks of oil used to anoint Kings Saul, David and Solomon are but one example. The Talmud and Misneh Berurah discuss and permit the use of shofar for drinking water, and the use of shofarot for drinking is hinted at the story of how Gideon selected troops for battle (See Chapter 3-1 – Shepherd Nation). Extrapolating from this, we can imagine that a shofar could be used as a kiddush cup for use during blessings over wine. This would be especially symbolic to use as the Cup of Elijah at the Passover seder table; in addition to the horn’s reference to the Pascal lamb, the vessel makes reference to the horn Elijah will blow at the coming of the Messiah, one of the themes of we recall during the seder.
Elijah blowing shofar to announce the coming of the Messiah. From an illuminated Machzor in the town hall of Frankfort-on-the-Main.
More, a vessel called a “rhyton” was used throughout the ancient Mediterranean and Fertile Crescent for drinking wine. Instead of drinking from the top like from a modern cup, wine was imbibed from an opening at the narrow (bottom) tip of a rhyton. While often made of precious metal, the horn-shaped configuration of the rhyton reveals its origins. Indeed, in Aramaic, the languge Jews used for secular speech during the Babylonian captivity, the word for “drinking horn” is … a cognate of “shofar.”
Additional speculations on the connections between shofar and rhyton are in Chapter 3-5 – Beyond the Days of Awe with regard to Purim.
It should not be hard to imagine that, in the simple material culture of a pastoral or nomadic tribe, the same horn that was used for signaling was also used for drinking, and that the original Cup of Elijah was a shofar.
In the ancient world, the “Cup of Elijah” could well have been the “Horn of Elijah.” A rhyton is a type of vessel used for libations and rituals from ancient Persia to Greece. While no ancient rhyton made of horn is known to exist, animal horns were clearly the inspiration for the many horn-shaped rhyta fabricated in metal, ceramic, or glass. More, the Talmud describes the suitability of a shofar for drinking purposes. “Rhyton” is from a Greek word that means, “to run through,” because the tip of the horn (or the bottom of the rhyton) was open, allow wine or other drink to run through the horn. When not imbibing, the person holding the rhyton would stop the hole with a finger. The relationship of the rhyton to a horned animal is further manifested in the frequent use of horned animal protome to adorn the spout of the vessel.
The Haggadah instructs us to recline while drinking wine at the seder. Reclining is a symbol of freedom because, in the past, only the wealthy or powerful could recline while eating, as depicted in this 4th century BCE Greek sculpture. It shows a noble person holding a horn-shaped rhyton for drinking wine. The bas relief comes from the frieze of the Nereid Monument in Southwestern Turkey.
A Story: “As Rabbi Levi Yitzhak saw women cleaning and making their homes and utensils kosher through scraping and scrubbing, he would say (as is said when the Shofar is blown on Rosh Hashanah): ‘May it be God's will that the angels arising from the letters K-SH-R-K (which normally stand for the Shofar notes [teKiah – SHevarim – teRuah – teKiah] but can also stand for kof = kritza = scrubbing; shin = shtifa = pouring; resh = rehitza = washing; kof = kirud = sanding) should arise before His holy seat and recommend us before Him.’”
The Jericho Connection: The exodus that began with the Children of Isarel going out of Egypt ended forty years later with their going into Canaan where Passover was celebrated outside the walls of Jericho. The city’s very name is inextricably linked to the sound of shofar as our capture of Jericho was marked by seven days of marching around the city blowing seven shofarot.
According to tradition, the attack on Jericho began on the 22 day of the Hebrew month of Nisan. In the Land of Israel, where Passover is observed for seven days, this was the day after Passover. In the diaspora, however, this means that the anniversary of the attack is on the eighth day of Passover. With this in mind, the presence of a shofar on the Seder table can help stimulate discussion about the enduring meaning of Passover.
Why, for example, do we pour wine out of our cup to recall the suffering of the Egyptians due to the Ten Plagues, but do not pour out wine, the symbol of joy, to memorialize the suffering of Jericho’s inhabitants?
Shavuot: On the fiftieth day after the start of Passover, in our path from slavery to revelation, we received Torah at Sinai while a shofar blast grew louder and louder. This journey is marked by the annual counting of the Omer, beginning on the second night of Passover. Bringing the ram’s horn to the seder bookends the Omer and gives us a preview of what awaits us at the end of the journey.
Etymology: Shifrah was one of the Egyptian midwifes to the ancient Hebrews who left Egypt during the Exodus. Her name means, “to make beautiful,” and comes from the same Hebrew root as “shofar.”
Tekiah Gedolah: “The long blast of the tekiah gedolah awakens HaShem’s mercy. The Torah tells us that at the Giving of the Torah, “there was a sound of a shofar, increasing in volume to a great degree.” The sages comment that the longer the sound went on, the stronger it became. This was unlike the sound produced by man: the longer he blows, the weaker the sound becomes. We blow a long tekiah with diminishing strength. What message are we sending with the diminishing sound of the shofar? After 210 years of Egyptian bondage, the Children of Israel did not listen to Moses, ‘because of shortness of breath and hard work.’ All the more so is it hard for us, after two thousand years of exile and oppression, to obey HaShem. The steadily weakening sound of the tekiah gedolah conveys this plea for HaShem’s compassion.”
Shofar Celebrates Freedom: Shofar is blown to announce Yovel, the time when slaves are released from bondage. More, the Mishnah Berurah says, “Someone who is partially a slave and partially a freeman man may not make his shofar blowing serve even for himself to fulfill his obligation to hear shofar on Rosh Hashanah. It is necessary for a free person to blow for him to enable him to fulfil his obligation.” On Passover, however, we are all free persons. Blowing shofar at the seder announces this in a dramatic way. In the words of the tenth Amidah blessing, “Sound the great shofar for our freedom.”
The Haggadah instructs us to remember the Passover story as though we ourselves had slaves in Egypt. On Rosh Hashanah, we are told to hear the shofar to remember the Binding of Issac, as though we ourselves had been bound on the altar. If the shofar can help us remember the one, perhaps it can help us remember the other.
Rabbi Abbahu said we should sound shofar on Rosh Hashanah because, “The Holy One praised be He said, ‘sound before Me the horn of a ram, that I might be reminded of the binding of Isaac, the son of Abraham, and thus consider your fulfillment of this commandment [of sounding a horn] as though you had bound yourselves upon an altar before Me.’”
In the Venice Haggadah printed in 1609, Elijah the prophet is shown blowing shofar as he leads the Messiah to the gates of Jerusalem as foretold in Malachi 3:24.
“You shall not insult the deaf…”
Traditional Jewish halachah – law – exempts the deaf from the obligation to hear the shofar. This is an ethical teaching in line with the Biblical injunction to not place stumbling blocks before the blind. But the exemption itself can become a stumbling block when it is used to block the deaf from participation in the ritual of shofar to the extent that they are both willing and able.
For example, Talmud says, “A deaf-mute, an imbecile, and a minor cannot fulfill an obligation on behalf of the many.” This means that a person who hears shofar blown by a deaf person is not considered to have fulfilled the mitzvah of hearing shofar. After all, how will the deaf shofar blower know if the blasts have been done correctly?
But there are many ways to hear shofar that are accessible to many of the deaf. For example, we are commanded to “shema” shofar, and “shema…means not only “hear,” but also “understand” If a deaf person can recognize and understand the blasts – through whatever modality – then should not that person be able to sound shofar for others?
There are many ways to understand shofar and to know its voice. For example, one can touch the horn and feel it vibrate, or touch another surface that is vibrating in resonance with the shofar blast. The Deaf Jewish Community Center in Southern California, for example, describes how its members, “actually felt the sound of the Shofar by holding balloons in our hands.” and “had a big drum for the deaf members to feel when the shofar is blown.”
Experiencing shofar in this way can be especially profound for a deaf person who cannot participate in so many other aspects of communal Jewish life.
Another approach is to understand shofar through sign language. The eloquence – a dance, really – expressed in the following description by an American Sign Language interpreter makes it clear that he can express as many nuances of emotion and spirit as are heard in the acoustical experience of shofar:
“The way I represent the sounding of the shofar is to first fingerspell the type of shofar blast that is called out by the sh'lach tzibbur, then sign SHOFAR, that is the two S hands are held at the mouth with the dominant hand in front of the nondominant hand, then the dominant hand moves away and opens to show the twist of the shofar and how it flares open. The hands are held in place, and for the tekiah, I bow my head at the beginning of the blast and raise it again as the blast ends. For shevarim, which is three shorter blasts, I raise and lower my head with the same duration and repetition of the blasts. For teruah, approximately 10 very rapid blasts, I lower my head and vibrate the imaginary shofar by moving the hands back and forth in small tremulous movements, again always with the same duration and number of repetitions that I am hearing at the moment, and then raise my head when all of the blasts are through.”
At Sinai, we are told that ALL the people could not only hear shofar, they could see its voice. The miracle that happened then is still possible, even for the deaf.
“ICONOGRAPHY, art of pictorial representation, specifically, that branch of the history of art that concerns itself with subject matter rather than form.”
“ICONOLATRY: The use of images in the worship of God.”
If the ram totem was the image of Judaism we presented to ourselves (See Chapter 3-1 – Shepherd Nation), then perhaps the shofar iconography was the image we presented (or were labeled with) by the outside world. The shofar was one of the principal visual icons of the Jewish people. Along with the menorah, lulav and etrog, the shofar “is one of the most common Jewish symbols found from the first centuries of the Common Era,” Whether shown as an elegant lituus curve or a squiggly representation of a helix, the shofar appeared in mosaics on synagogue floors, on souvenirs from the Holy Land, and in burial markets both in the Land of Israel and through out the diaspora in the Roman and Byzantine Empires.
A Roman or Byzantine glass medallion decorated with gold was probably a souvenir from the Levant. The central image of the Temple are flanked with cult paraphernalia including menorah, lulav, etrog, and shofar.
The shofar is now used as a graphic motif for the High Holy Days, but is no longer in widespread use as a brand for the Tribe. I offer the following conjectures to explain this iconographic change.
First, the decline in iconographic use of shofar was part of Judaism’s shift from a Temple-centered nation-state to a more modern form of religion. While the Temple stood, the ritual use of a ram’s horn occurred primarily in its precincts, and the implements of Temple-worship were national symbols. After the destruction of the Temple, these symbols lingered in our memory and were used as a memorial to our loss. Over time, however, the shofar became integrated into synagogue practice and seen as a ritual object on par with kiddush cups, candlesticks, and havdalah spice boxes. Shofar became a familiar object, available in every community and associated more with a particular holiday than with national identity.
Horns were used as a symbol of authority and divinity, as shown on this coin of Alexander the Great.
The second change occurred in the medieval era when horns were transformed from a symbol of honor to one of ignominy. Throughout the ancient world, horns were associated with power and respect and it was not uncommon for leaders to be designated with horned headdresses. Through magical association, leaders were even imagined as being horned.
Within this context, it should not surprise us that many people interpret Exodus 34:29-30 as meaning that Moses had horns on his head after his second descent from Mt. Sinai; keren translates as either “rays of light” or “horns.
“And as Moses came down from the mountain bearing the two tablets of the Pact, Moses was not aware that the skin of his face was radiant [keren], since he had spoken with Him. Aaron and all the Israelites saw that the skin of Moses’ face was radiant [keren]; and they shrank from coming near him.”
When the Vulgate Latin translation of the Bible was written, it was translated the keren as cornutam, horned.
“The interpretation given in the Vulgate is to be found in the midrashim too, and it may well represent the original sense better than the English Bible does. It is more than likely that the horns of Moses came straight from a symbolism that was already ancient when Moses was alive.”
14th Century manuscript from England shows a horned Moses receiving 10 Commandments
As Europe descended into the Dark Ages, however, the honorific and symbolic significance of Moses’ horns gave way to a stigmatization that tainted all European Jews. The new meanings of horns,
“…were borrowed directly from the demons of medieval Christianity, and those in turn were descended directly from the horned beings who had played so large a part in earlier world pictures. More specifically, medieval demons are the horned gods and spirits of Roman religion, rejected and converted into evil monsters… And just as Pan had headed the train of goat like nature spirits, so now the hordes of demons had their king and captain in the Devil, Satan….”
This interpretation was promoted by the Church and written into law. For example,
“In 1215 the Fourth Lateran Council decreed that…all Jews must wear a distinguishing mark on their clothing… the distinguishing mark was usually a wheel of yellow felt sewn on the front and back of the robe, sometimes it took the form of horns. Thus an ecclesiastical synod meeting at Vienna in 1267 ordered Jews to wear a horned hat… In France too, for a generation before their expulsion in 1206, Jews had to wear a horn, in this case fixed to the middle of the yellow wheel itself.”
While the horn of the shofar recalled the majesty of the One King, the horn on the hat was a stigma imposed by temporal lords. From a 14th century Rheims machzor..
With the rebirth of Humanism following the Renaissance, the horns of Moses were once again restored as a symbol of spiritual connection. This is seen most dramatically in Michelangelo’s sculpture of Moses executed in 1513. Moses is seated on a majestic throne, fully human but with a radiant gaze transformed by his encounter with God. The horns are not those of a demon or animal, but restored as the crown of authority and halo of holiness that comes from a fully activated crown chakra.
Moses with horns as sculpted by Michelangelo.
A century later, an English scholar put it this way:
“…an horn is the Hieroglyphick of authority, power and dignity, and in this Metaphor is often used in Scripture.”
In our time, the shofar is still a much-loved symbol – consider the shofar-shaped cookie cutter that is a favorite for making holiday treats. But with increasing distance from the centrality of the Temple in our culture, its dislocation caused by the Middle Ages, and the relatively modern embrace of the Seal of Solomon/Star of David as the Jewish symbol of national identity, it is clear that the shine is off the horn as an icon of national identity.
Since Abraham and Sarah walked out of the primeval Semitic sands, our tribe has honored the ram as a totem and used the shofar as an icon, but has not made either an idol or the subject of iconolatry. We sacrificed sheep to God, not as a god. And we strained to hear the still small voice of God in the call of the shofar, but knew that the hollow tube of the shofar was naught but a conduit for communication with God.
A short internet animation parodied American Idol, a popular television show, with a competition between shofar blowers. Contestants blowing shofar in individualistic styles were eliminated from the competition. Yet a bearded man with a yarmulke who sounded traditional tekiah, shevarim, and teruah calls won the plaudits of the judges. That shofar could be the topic of such light-hearted humor among Jews underscores that shofar is not a “holy cow.” The animation recognizes the kavanah of the shofar blower, not the instrument.
Our Rabbis teach in Talmud that: “Accessories of religious observances are to be thrown away; accessories of holiness are to be stored away. The following are accessories of religious observances: a sukkah, a lulav, a shofar, tzitzit. The following are accessories of holiness: large sacks for keeping scrolls of the Scripture in, tefillin and mezuzot, a mantle for a Sefer Torah, and a tefillin bag and tefillin straps.”
About objects of holiness (tashimishei kedusha), it has been explained that, “The common feature of the objects in the group is that they contain words, specifically the name of God, but by extension any words divinely written or inspired, from which the quality of holiness is derived. The nontextual objects all come into contact with the texts, and in so doing acquire some of the same quality of holiness. The transmission is not indefinite, however, extending a maximum of two layers. For example, curtains located outside of the ark curtain itself are not affected.” When these articles are no longer fit for use, they must be “put away” by burial in a cemetery or interned in a genizah.
A contemporary use of shofar as a graphic icon is well suited for the logo for this Jewish-content television network; both TV and shofar call to Jews dispersed over large distances.
Articles of religious observance (tashmishei mitzvah), on the other hand, are “objects which make it possible to perform a commandment” and include: wine cups, the Hanukah menorah, seder plates, candlesticks, wedding canopies, and most of the other ritual objects of Jewish life. Shofar is not an object of holiness; it is an accessory to religious observance that makes it possible to perform the commandment of hearing shofar. As such, it is permitted to discard a broken shofar as trash.
“Than what is this bleating of sheep in my ears…?”
Throughout this book, I cite scriptures and teachings about goats and goat horns in addition to those that relate to sheep. This is not because I get the two confused; it is because the differences between the two species are confusing.
In modern classification systems, both the goat (genus capra) and sheep (genus ovis) are bovids belonging to the family bovidae. They are cloven-hoofed ruminants with four-chambered stomachs, chew cud, have slit pupils in their eyes, and have horns. The fundamental difference between the genera relates to dentition, something that might be overlooked from a cursory inspection. It has been said that two genera are similar, “to the point of causing occasional taxonomic confusion.” In fact, the differences between two breeds within each genus can be greater than the differences between the genera.
Our sages, too, had their own confusions about the ritualistic differences between sheep and goats. In Talmud, for example, we are first told that the horn of a sheep is the preferred shofar, then that “the shofar of Rosh Hashanah should be a wild goat”, and then that “On Rosh Hashanah we blow with the horn of male [sheep] and on the Yovel Year with the horns of wild goats.”
The point is that our ancestors – who undoubtably understood the nuances of animal breeds – did not necessarily differentiate between sheep and goats – the small horned animals in their flocks – as carriers of our tribal identity and spiritual connection.
· The flesh, skin, and smell of a goat kid was instrumental in Jacob receiving his father’s blessing instead of his brother Esau, shaping forever the tribe that later became the children of Israel. Jacob had to become like a goat to receive the patrimony.
· Goats were employed again by Jacob to build his wealth. As it is written, “Note well all the he-goats…”
· Jacob, renamed as Israel, became victim of his own goatish cons when the blood of a kid was used to convince him that his son Joseph had been killed by a wild animal, another step towards manifesting the destiny of the tribe.
· The Pesach sacrifice was either a yearling male sheep or goat.
· Sheep and goats were interchangeable in some sacrifices. For example, either male sheep or goats are acceptable as a burnt offering.
· The tent and drape in front of the Mishkon were goat hair.
· On Yom Kippur in the Temple, a lottery between two goats selected one to be sacrificed and the other to be sent to Azazel.
The Only Kid, by Eliezer Lissitzky. Russia, 1919.
In the middle ages, the Chad Gadya (Aramaic for “an only kid”) became a popular song for the Passover seder. The metaphors in the song have had many interpretations. The one interpretation that remains consistent, however, is that the “Only Kid” refers to the Jewish people. While the origins of the song are obscure, the memory of a horned animal as the tribal totem remains.
Accepting, at least for the sake of discussion, that the distinction in our mythology between sheep and goats is blurred, we can see a pattern that may have otherwise been missed: A horned shofar-bearing animal or its horn was present at each of the epochal transitions from one generation of tribal leadership to the next:
· From Abraham to his son Isaac: The ram sheep of the Akedah.
· From Isaac to Jacob: The goat kids used by Jacob to secure his father’s blessing.
· From Jacob/Israel to Joseph: The goat kid whose blood was use to stain Joseph’s coat.
· From the Patriarchs to Moses: The yearling sheep or goat used to mark our doors so the Angel of Death would pass over our homes.
· From Moses to Priests (Spiritual Leadership): Aaron and and his sons were ordained as priests with the blood of the ram.
· From Moses to Joshua (Political Leadership): The shofarot used at Jericho.
· From Joshua to the Judges: Shofarot are incorporated into the stories of Ehud and Gideon and linked by midrash to Deborah.
· From the Judges to the Kings: Saul, David, and Solomon were anointed with oil from a horn flask and Kings from Solomon on were announced by the blast of shofarot.
The memory of these transitions is contained in the shofar blasts. If we listen to it, the call can empower us to make important transitions in our own lives during the Days of Awe.
“The Gemara relates that once a king and queen…were discussing which meat is tastier, lamb or goat. They decided to ask the Cohen Gadol, who would most probably know since he was offering sacrifices continuously… The High Priest… gestured contemptuously with his hand as if to say, ‘If goat is better, why isn't it used for the daily sacrifice?’
“The explanation may be the following… In the Gemara, Rava says that a goat has very long ears and as his head emerges the ears are seen first… When a lamb is born, its lips are seen first…
“When HaShem offered the Jewish people the Torah they immediately responded… ‘We will do and we will listen’… The pasuk connects the continual-offering of a lamb with Mount Sinai to indicate that since the lamb's lips emerge before its ears… it has been selected as the daily continual-offering to emphasize the praise of the Jewish people, who at Mount Sinai put their mouth before their ears.”
“While alive, a sheep has but one voice.
After it dies, its voice is multiplied sevenfold.
“How is its voice multiplied sevenfold?
Its two horns are made into trumpets;
its two leg bones into two flutes;
its hide into a drum;
its entrails are used for lyres, and
its chitterlings for harps.”
“Rabbi Eliezer said: The ram came from the mountains where he had been grazing. Rabbi Joshua differed: An angel brought him from the Garden of Eden, where he had been grazing beneath the tree of life and drinking out of the waters that passed under it, and the fragrance of that ram went forth throughout the world. When was the ram placed in the Garden? During twilight at the end of the six days of creation.”
“Throughout the day, Abraham saw the ram [of the Akedah become entangled in a tree, break loose, and go free; become entangled in a bush, break loose, and go free; then again become entangled in a thicket, break loose, and go free. The Holy One said, “Abraham, even so will your children be entangled in many kinds of sin and trapped with successive kingdoms – from Babylon to Media, from Media to Greece, from Greece to [Rome].” Abraham asked, “Master of the universe, will it be forever thus?” God replied, “In the end they will be redeemed [at the sound of] the horns of this ram.”
“This is a fundamental point of teshuvah. By admitting that one has become animal-like as a result of his behavior and is incapable of speaking, that he can offer no justification for what he has done, God takes pity on him and brings him to ever-higher levels. One can even become worthy of that silence which is even greater than speech… This is why we blow the shofar - a wordless cry. From the depths of our hearts we must summon the proper voice - a cry, a sigh, a growl or a roar. We have no answers for accusers, no excuses to offer God. We only have our voices.”
“The Bible teaches: “And the Lord said, ‘Let us make the human being in our image and after our likeness.’” The question plaguing all of the commentaries is, who is the “us” in that verse? To whom is God speaking?
“The Ramban gives the best interpretation: After all, he says, the Almighty has just created on this sixth day the animals and beasts. God is speaking to those very brute creatures, who are limited in time and strength and who require nutrition, rest, sexual reproduction, and excretion of waste. “Let us make the human being in our joint image,” says God to these beasts.
“The human being will have two
aspects, the animal as well as the divine. The human being will be limited,
unable to rise above himself, unable to change or perfect himself; on the other
hand, he will contain a spark of the divine, which will give him precisely that
ability to sanctify and ennoble the physical aspects of his being and — in
effect — to recreate himself as a partner of the Divine.
“Sin emanates from the animal
aspect of the human personality unrefined and undeveloped by the divine soul.
If the human being is passive, he will be guided by instinct alone and will
fall prey to all his weaker desires. Only if the human being activates his
divine soul and works on repairing himself and the world around him will he
express that divine image that makes him different from all other creations.
Then he will succeed in the ultimate vision of Rosh Hashanah, “perfecting the
world in the kingship of the divine.”
“The commandment of the shofar is that we listen to the shofar so that our passive animal personality becomes aroused by our creative image of God. The blessing [to listen] is directed toward the animal part of the human being; only if this aspect is aroused is repentance possible.”
“Why is the shofar the vehicle for bringing us to repentance? What is there about the horn of an animal that may be linked to spiritual rebirth? The horn is one of four major causes of damage produced by animals. We, too, at times, may at times allow ourselves to be possessed by our animalistic nature, but the shofar tells us to take the potentially destructive horn and transform it, thereby to become holy.”
“Greek legend has it that the horn of plenty, “cornucopia,” was one of the horns of the goat, Amaltheia, who nursed Zeus when he was a child sent into hiding to escape his father, who wanted to kill him… After Amaltheia died, Zeus…conferred upon this horn the marvelous power to refill itself inexhaustibly with whatever food or drink was desired… I was struck by an image of the shofar as a kind of ‘horn of plenty,’ with the cornucopia as a symbol of abundant life. But the image grew for me in another way as well: the shofar took on so many new meanings that I kept seeing it as a horn of plentiful meanings, of life-giving sustenance of all sorts.” 
Mosaic from synagogue in “House of Leontius in Beit She’an (in Jordan Valley) shows a horn apparently filled with fruit like a cornucopia. Built in the Byzantine period, it suggests the diffusion of cultural ideas.
“The sheep is spiritually rooted in the attribute of mercy, and its voice testifies to this, since it evokes mercy and compassion with its bleats. Therefore we are commanded to blow a ram’s horn, to evoke the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy.”
“Let us learn from a passage of Talmud that cautions against raising goats and sheep in the Land of Israel. Since our Biblical forebears did precisely that, how could the Talmud have the chutzpah to oppose it? The Rabbis knew that since great and growing numbers of humans were raising goats and sheep there, these flocks would denude and ruin the Land. The world had changed, and so did Jewish holy practice.”
Just in case you think the Talmud doesn’t provide comic relief, here is proof to the contrary:
“R. Zera found R. Judah standing by the door of his father-in-law’s house and noticed that he was in such a cheerful mood that if he asked him about the secret processes of the universe, he would tell them to him. So he asked him: ‘Why do the dark-colored goats walk at the head of the flock, while the [light-colored] sheep follow after?’ R. Judah: ‘It is in keeping with the order of creation – darkness first and light afterward.’
“‘Why is the rear end of sheep covered with a fat-tail, while goats are uncovered?’ ‘Those whose wool we cover ourselves with are themselves covered, while those whose fur we do not cover ourselves with are uncovered.’”
So now you know the secret processes of the universe!
“Churchlady asked me, ‘Are you washed in the blood,
In the pore cleansing blood of that sacrificial lamb?’
Hell no! I'm washed in the blood of the ram.”
The melodic motifs used in chanting Torah are called trope (ta-amey hanegina in Hebrew). In a printed version of Torah with masoretic notations of vowels and punctuation, trope are noted with subscripts and superscripts that prompt the traditional cantillation. Like the musical soundtrack to a movie, trope often provides clues to help us understand the emotional context of the narrative.
Shalshelet: The Foundation for New Jewish Liturgical Music uses this stylized shalshelet symbol as its logo. It bears a striking similarity to the zig-zag notation for the teruah shofar blast as shown in the medieval manuscripts (see Chapter 1-5 – Break, Blast, Shatter, Blast).
Most of the trope markings occur with high frequency throughout Torah. The shalshelet, however, is a trope that is used only four times in the Five Books of Moses. Its dramatic sound – tremulous, drawn out, and wavering – and infrequent use are signposts to draw our attention to the significance of the word so marked.
While shalshelet is not used in conjunction with shofar-related words like “blow,” shalshelet is linked to shofar through similarities in the emotional impact of their sounds, and by a mutual connection to the role of the ram in our tradition.
Shalshelet is always applied to a verb and is understood to denote a clash of deep emotions, hesitation and anxiety about taking an action. For example,
· Lot “lingers” when told to leave Sodom, torn, we can speculate, about parting with his material possessions.
· Eliezer, the servant Abraham sent to find a wife for Isaac, “said” a prayer asking to know God’s will because he had the conflicting impulses of wanting to do his employer’s bidding yet hoping his own daughter would be the bride.
· Joseph “refused” the advances of Potiphar’s wife despite his bodily desires.
Musical notation of shalshelt shows its rapid and dramatic wave of sound. 
The fourth use of shalshelet can also be understood as expressing hesitation or inner turmoil. In Exodus 29, Moses receives instructions for initiating Aaron and his sons into the priesthood. Then, in Leviticus 8, in front of the gathered community, the initiates are washed, girded with priestly robes and appurtenances, and anointed. After the altar and its utensils are anointed, three animals are sacrificed: a bull as a sin offering, a ram as a burnt offering, and a ram of ordination. There are other sin and burnt offerings in Torah, but only this sacrifice is identified in conjunction with an ordination. Leviticus 8:22-23 records:
“He (Moses) brought forward the second ram, the ram of ordination. Aaron and his sons laid their hands upon the ram’s head, and it was slaughtered.”
The word “slaughtered” (vayishichat) is marked with shalshelet.
According to Rashi, Moses was struggling with the thought of sharing his authority; Moses had held both temporal and spiritual authority over the tribes until the ordination of his brother. Another commentator explains that Moses had experienced spiritual exaltation while performing tasks that would hereafter be reserved for priests and was dismayed by the thought that he will have to abandon this role. And another finds that, because this was Moses' final ritual act before handing over the priestly role to Aaron, he was asking himself, “‘Have I taught flawlessly? Perhaps I have failed in my preparation of Aaron for his role?’ That is why the word vayishichat is marked with a shalshelet. The great teacher is subjecting himself to merciless self-criticism.”
We find that,
“What unites these four episodes is the appearance of the shalshelet - each time above a pivotal verb: a verb that describes a moment of personal crisis, of deep soul-searching. Each of these four individuals is filled with doubt, confused over what decision to make, which path to follow… There are times when each of us hears the shalshelet ringing in our ears. Like Lot, we oscillate between our material and spiritual values. Like Eliezer, we doubt our own abilities. Like Moshe Rabbenu, we weigh…our own self interest against HaShem’s plan. And like Yosef, we constantly struggle to do what we know is right, and not what we know is wrong… The Torah teaches us that struggling, soul searching is a necessary, productive process: it is often what enables us to do the right thing.”
These are the types of questions and emotions we experience when we hear shofar during the Days of Awe. Through the instrument of the ram’s horn, we are reconnected to our ancestors as they grappled with their choices in life. We are told that we, “shall be to Me a kingdom priests.” It is as if, since the destruction of the Temple, we use the shofar to invoke the sacrifice of the ram of ordination to take upon ourselves the duties of being priestly in each of our lives.
The connection between shalshelet and shofar has also been expressed as follows:
“The shalshelet is, I would suggest, a uniquely Jewish note. It reminds me of the shevarim of the shofar blowing. It represents life at its most uncertain. Life is filled with such moments, moments of hesitation - critical moments when we realize that we are at a juncture – when the decisions that we make will forever change the course of our future. And Jewish tradition affirms that it is not unusual at such moments to hesitate – like the shalshelet - we waver, and we quiver. Jewish tradition insists that this, shalshelet, this hesitation, this unsureness, is not only an acceptable response to life’s transitional moments - it is the appropriate one.”
In Chapter 1-6 – The Ram’s Midrash, I suggest that we may have much to learn by shifting our focus from the human actors in the Bible to a consideration of the animal participants. This is a useful conceit to apply to the ram of ordination whose slaughter is marked with the zigzag lightning bolt that designates shalshelet.
At least one Torah chanter understands this as the bolt of energy marking the flight of the ram’s soul to return to its Source. The zigzag is the path of Divine energy moving through the kabalistic sefirot on the Tree of Life, the bridge between the lower and higher worlds.
Moses took the blood of the ram and put it on the initiates’ right ears, right thumbs, and right toes, symbolically calling on them to hear God, carry out God’s commandments, and walk in the path of God. Marking their bodies with sheep blood recalls the marking of their doors, only a short time earlier, with the blood of the Pascal lamb.
Shalshelet means “chain” and is often used in the phrase, “shalshelet ha-kabbalah,” the chain of tradition that links the Jewish people from generation to generation. By memorializing the slaughter of the ram of ordination at the foot of Mt. Sinai, the establishment of the priesthood forges another link in the chain of tradition that joins the ram of the Akedah to the lamb of the exodus from Egypt to the ram’s horns heralding Revelation at Sinai and the coming of the Messiah. Each year, when we sound shofar during the Yamim Noraim – Days of Awe, we forge another link in that chain.
“Go blow them ram horns, Joshua cried
'Cause the battle is in my hands.”
The Book of Joshua describes in dramatic detail how shofarot were used in the Israelite army’s arsenal during the attack against Jericho. This story, told in Chapter 6 of Joshua, illustrates many significant aspects of shofar in Jewish tradition, including its military use, tribal symbolism, and magical import. It is one of just a few tales from Torah that has worked its way into broad public awareness; who among us, for example, does not know that, “Joshua fit de battle of Jericho, and de walls came a tumblin’ down,” as a popular folk song relates? The blasts of rams’ horns in Chapter 6 is so loud, however, that it has obscured a much quieter reference to shofar in Chapter 7 of Joshua.
Chapter 7 describes the Israelite’s foray against Ai – the next town on the road from Jordan River to Canaan’s interior – and the immediate aftermath of the incident. Spies, sent by Joshua, returned from Ai to report that the settlement had few defenders and required only two or three thousand Israelite troops to conquer. The attackers, however, were routed and, “the men of Ai killed about thirty-six of them, pursuing them from outside the gate as far as Shevarim, and cutting them down along the descent.”
The place name, “Shevarim,” is related to the Hebrew word for “broken,” This leads some commentators to suggest the pursuit ended in a quarry where rocks were broken, or perhaps at the site of a broken ruin. Others understand it as a metaphor for the shattered confidence of the invaders who probably assumed that taking Ai would be as easy as taking Jericho. However, one of the shofar calls on Rosh Hashanah is also called, “shevarim.” It is said that, “coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous,” so perhaps we can learn something about the shevarim of Rosh Hashanah from the events surrounding Ai.
Shocked by the defeat, Joshua and the elders of Israel rent their clothes, prostrated themselves, and covered their heads with dirt. Joshua challenged God, “Did You bring us across the Jordan just to see us defeated?” God replied that Israel had sinned and its campaign would not succeed until the Nation was purified. The infraction was that someone had taken booty from Jericho in contradiction to God’s instruction that the city and all of its contents were to be completely destroyed. The culprit, a man named Achan, was identified and put to death by stoning and fire. Thus purged of its offense, Israel was able to vanquish all the tribes that rose against Joshua.
At Ai, an individual’s failing lead to the Nation’s downfall. A similar theme of collective guilt is ingrained in the Rosh Hashanah liturgy where the Al Chayt, the confessional prayer, is said in the first person plural – “For the sin we have sinned…” The suffering of the many for the crime of the individual seems unfair, until we realize that the same urges that lead Achan to loot Jericho exists inside each of us. Even small character defects can lead us, individually and collectively, to ruin if we do not guard against them.
On Rosh Hashanah, we first hear tekiah, the strong shofar blast that is like the triumphant, self-confident blasts that barraged Jericho. Shevarim, on the other hand, invites us to examine the parts of ourselves that are not whole. It triggers us to ask questions such as, “Have I done something that caused injury to others? Has an attitude or behavior of mine caused me to suffer? Am I culpable because I looked the other way when I saw someone else in need or committing an error?”
Is it just another coincidence that the name of the city where we met defeat is pronounced the same as the English first-person singular pronoun, “I.” If we really hear the shofar blasts, shevarim can help shatter the ego that distorts our self-image. It is the antidote to the arrogance we might feel if we heard only the triumphant shofar blasts of Jericho.
After getting a dose of attitude adjustment at Shevarim, Joshua returned to prayer and took action to consign the booty from Jericho to the flames as God had instructed. These were acts of teshuvah, the return to purity that we all seek during Rosh Hashanah. Sometimes it takes a good trouncing, like the one we got at Shevarim, to help us return to the right track. We are blessed, however, that hearing shevarim can also help us find at-one-ment.
“And the man gave names…to all the wild beasts.”
Just as the origins of the shofar itself goes back into the mists of time, so too do our names for the instrument and the horn from which it comes. For example, in India, “the word used is shringa or its modifications in the Indo-Aryan languages and kombu or its variants in the Dravidian; both mean horn.” These two terms have a resemblance to the words shofar and keren that have generally the same meaning in Hebrew and suggest a common paleolinguistic ancestry.
Say the word “shofar” aloud and you will experience a rush or flow of air on both the vowels and consonants. Say “keren” and you will experience a word with a sudden attack and an abrupt ending. It is clear from their sounds which word signifies an aerophone and which an object with percussive potential.
Scholars have linked the word “shofar” to the names of horned animals in various Semitic languages. For example:
· Sippura, sippur or sapparu: Assyrian for a goat or wild sheep.
· Tsafir: Biblical Hebrew for a male goat.
· A compound of two Hebrew words: shor (ox) and par (bull).
Other possible derivations of the word “shofar” are instructive about the horn’s spiritual implications. For example:
“The word shofar itself comes from the root sh-p-r which has the basic meaning of hollowness. The shofar is an empty instrument that becomes important only when a man’s breath enters it. Then it becomes supremely important, able even to move worlds. Thus man should see himself, especially on Rosh Hashanah, as a shofar – an empty vessel that is worthless by itself, but potentially capable of divinity.”
It is not a coincidence that the words “hollowness” and “holyness” are related. The Kabbalists described how God filled the entire universe; for there to be room for creation, God had to contract to create room for the world to exist. As Rebbe Zalman says, “The whole cosmos became hollow to contain You.”
It has been said that,
“Hearing the shofar makes a Jew aware of the enormous spiritual potential latent inside him, the “extra soul” with which HaShem has favored him… This is suggested by the very word shofar (seemingly derived from the same root as Shin, Vav Pay Resh Aleph, “beauty”), intimating that listening to shofar strengthens and solidifies the sublimely beautiful Divine Soul within us.”
The same root has been used to express other ideas about shofar:
· It is used to say shofar arouses Israel to repent and beautify its ways.
· It suggests the improvement that is the goal of teshuvah.
· Gensenius links shofar to shafer – to be bright, clear, and beautiful – possibly on account of its clear sound.
· Shifrah was one of the midwives of the ancient Hebrews in Egypt. Her name means, “to make beautiful,” and she helped birth babies the same way shofar midwifes us into the new year.
We are also told that,
“The Holy One said to Israel: ‘If you will amend (shippartem) your deeds I shall become unto you like a horn (shofar). As the horn takes in [the breath] at one end and sends [it] out at the other, so will I rise from the Throne of Judgment and sit upon the Throne of Mercy and will change for you the Attribute of Justice into the Attribute of Mercy.’”
In a variation of this theme, we learn,
“Just as with the shofar one blows in from one side and the sound comes from the other side, so too do all of the accusers of the world stand before Me and accuse you. But I hear their accusations from one side and remove them from the other side.”
Finally this, a teaching shared with me by a stranger, an old man – to my mind, Elijah – as I browsed in a Jewish book store: The root letters of shofar, Sh-P-R, can be rearranged to spell P-R-Sh and mean, “to explain or clarify.” The Talmud invalidates the calls of a shofar that has been turned inside-out, but perhaps the shofar’s blasts can turn our consciousness inside-out so we can better understand shofar’s call.
“I have curved back in a spiral, where I can see where I’ve been from a vantage point that is on a different plane – and yet is part of the same curve.”
Jewish law and tradition provides guidance for what makes a horn ritually acceptable for use as a shofar. For example, the horn of a cow is not acceptable for a shofar. Why? Because the cow is associated with the golden calf. While we are listening for the shofar to call us back to the revelation at Sinai, we should avoid temptations from the symbol of our idolatry, the representative of whatever it is that turns us away from the Divine. It is asked of the cow in this regard, “Can a prosecutor become a defender?” Other strictures prohibit using a shofar which is cracked, that has a separate mouthpiece attached to it, or that has somehow been turned inside-out. It is an instructive exercise to consider the spiritual lessons to be learned from each of the laws governing shofar.
The geometry of the beautiful helical horns of this goat inspires wonder for the mathematics underlying natural systems.
One stricture in particular has caught my interest; the strong recommendation that a shofar should be curved. We are told that “a rounded horn is a sign of submission to the Almighty,” like bowing in prayer. Were it not for its curvature, the ram of the Akedah would not have been trapped in a bush. The curvature is also a reminder that even the shofar blower has to listen to the shofar; more of the sound emanating from a curved horn will radiate towards the blower, while most of the sound from a straight horn will be directed away from the blower.
Three views of a mathematical model of an idealized ram’s horn based on a logarithmic spiral. The outer wall is part of a cone whose profile is an equilateral triangle, the inner wall is from a cone whose profile is
an isosceles triangle the same height but half the width of the equilateral triangle.
The horn doubles in diameter every 180 degrees.
A closer look at the geometry of horns, however, reveals further lessons that can inform our relationship with shofar. Like seashells, the curvature of most horns is spiral. Spirals appear every scale of existence, from the molecular double helix of DNA to the swirling arms of galaxies. Recently, some physicists have even described the shape of the universe as “shofarable”. More, “It may be said that with very few exceptions the spiral formation is intimately connected with the phenomena of life and growth.”
This, and the visual beauty of spirals, has inspired many to regard them as a sort of sacred geometry. Least we attribute too much significance to the shape of horns, we should consider the caution issued nearly 100 years ago by Theodore Andrea Cook in his classic study of spirals in living systems, The Curves of Life:
“In some cases there have been zealous inquirers so overwhelmed with the significance and ubiquity of this formation that their contributions to knowledge have been seriously weakened by their mystical or spiritual extravagances. …this is one of the subjects very apt to carry away the amateur investigator and lead him to assert more than he can prove. There is no need for that. The facts are wonderful enough without addition.”
Still, I invoke the concept of “spirality” in our study of spirituality because the mathematics expressed by the curve of a horn can serve us as a diagram than can help us visualize the nature of teshuvah. Even Cook would, I believe, would find this acceptable as he says:
“…the spiral is an abstract idea in our minds which we can put on paper for the sake of greater clearness; and we evoke that idea in order to help us to understand …life and growth by means of conclusions originally drawn from mathematics.”
Physicists have identified a “Golden Shofar” curve, described by hyperbolic Fibonacci and Lucas functions, to create a model of a “shofarable” universe.
The spiral is deeply connected with Jewish tradition and spirituality. For example, other spiralar examples of Jewish ritual items and practices include:
· The windings of tefillin on the arm.
· The turning of knots in tzitzit.
· The braids of a Shabbat challah and the spiral of a New Year’s loaf.
· Intertwined havdalah candles.
· The coils of the rolled Torah scroll. And, according to some,
· The helical “Solomonic” columns that are said to have stood in front of the Temple in Jerusalem.
The traditional challah loaf served during the Days of Awe is curved like a ram’s horn.
Even the letters of the Hebrew aleph-bet are derived, some believe, from helical shapes or energy paths.
My sister, Hanna Chusid, suggests that the use of wine, “the fruit of the vine,” in our sacraments is associated with the curving tendrils of vines. She puns, “Like the grape which grows on a curving vine, humans grow on a twisting umbilical chord. This reminds us that we, too, are fruit of ‘deVine’.” She imagines the kabbalah’s Tree of Life in three-dimensions and the “Lightning Path” – the zigzag path of energy through its ten sefirot – in helical patterns. Her teacher, Elizabeth Cogburn, says, “Divine intelligence does not move in straight lines.” This echoes the Zohar’s statement that, “The physical reality is seen as but an intermediate phase in the ever-spiraling evolution of the fruition of the Creator's imagination or will.”
The spiral of shofar can be understood as a map to the path of teshuvah. The Jewish notion of “sin” is akin to “missing the mark.” To be human is to be constantly presented with the opportunity to improve ourselves, and the High Holy Days provide us an opportunity to correct our aim. Rather than praying to be completely free from sin, Rabbi Mordecai Findley says that the work of teshuvah is “pursuing a better class of sin.”
Let me explain by sharing a personal example. Throughout my life, I have had a problem with outbursts of rage. It would be a miracle if I could be reprogrammed and once and for all be freed from anger, and I certainly pray for deliverance each year in my High Holy Day prayers of atonement. But in reality, I formed my character defect a little at a time, and I am most likely to be successful at overcoming the trait a step at a time. First I had to learn to restrain myself from acts of violence, and to refrain from terrifying verbal outbursts. Then I had to learn to recognize and avoid the types of situations that tend to ignite my temper. And now I am working on learning how to remain present in difficult situations without getting riled.
Visually, my recovery can be depicted in a spiral graph. I try to move forward, but force of habit and moral weakness exert a force at cross purpose. The result is that my path through life is the sum of vectors, and the trail I leave traces a spiral course (see illustration above). The naturalist Alfred Russell Wallace says, “when growth is diverted from the direct path it almost necessarily leads to the production of that most beautiful of curves – the spiral.” While he was referring to physical growth, this Law of Spiral Growth applies no less to moral and spiritual growth.
LEFT: While I may plot a straight ahead course through life (vertical vector), flaws in my character (horizontal vector) take my actual path of course (diagonal vector). RIGHT: Repetition of the pattern yields a spiral. If we assume a vertical axis is our movement through time, it produces a helical path similar to the growth pattern of a ram’s horn.
The graph illustrates that, though progress is thwarted, each cycle of my life shows growth. And as the spiral grows, its curvature decreases and more closely approaches epitome of a morally straight path.
Like fingernails or hair, a horn is composed of non-living tissue. Only the tissue at the base, where it is connected to the skull, is alive. The configuration of the visible horn constitutes a record of an animal's past health and history, but it is the vigor of the living tissues that determine the configuration of any further growth and curvature.
In a similar manner, we cannot change the shape of our past deeds, but the moral choices we make and the actions we take now will affect our growth and the curvature of our lives in the future. When I see the shofar, I am reminded that I can only make teshuvah while I am still alive and able to grow. As I pray during the High Holy Days to be inscribed for another year of life, the shape of the shofar reminds me that my commitment to teshuvah can make the difference between a path that is miserably “twisted” and one that is on a beautiful trajectory.
Rabbi Arthur Waskow understands the spiral as a metaphor for Jewish renewal. He writes:
“I have learned to understand Jewish time and Jewish thought as a spiral: Neither a straight line that must always go forward, even into a precipice, nor a circle that must remain forever stuck in repeating past experience. Instead, a spiral, which curves always backward in order to curve forward.
“What makes time and life into a circle instead of a straight line or an endless circle is setting aside time for reflection, rest, renewal. That renewal-time – Shabbat, the Sabbath – is the curve that moves the spiral onward. So is the sabbatical year the Bible calls us toward. So is every moment when we pause to catch our breath, to absorb what we have just done before we go forward to do more. All these let us re-view where we have been, so that we can go forward.”
The Days of Awe provide another setting aside of time to make sure we are on the right curve. During the Holy Days, we are commanded to hear the shofar rather than to see it. Perhaps this is because people have eyelids but not ear lids; we can hear and awaken to shofar’s call even if we are asleep. But the next time you hear the shofar, you may benefit from opening your eyes and seeing it as well; it can be said about shofar as is said about Torah:
“Turn it and turn it again, for all is contained in it.”
“All shofarot are made of keren, but not all keren can be shofarot.”
In Talmudic deliberations, the distinction between a keren – an animal horn – and a shofar – an acceptable implement of religious service – is based on the species of animal from which the horn comes. (See Chapter 2-3 – Buying, Making and Caring for a Shofar) In the spirit of that ancient yet ongoing debate, I pose and attempt to answer a question about the permissible configurations of the shofar.
In modern musical categorizations, the typical shofar is an “end-blown” instrument that is blown through a hole at the narrow end of the horn. Horns can also be fabricated as “side-blown” instruments, with the blowhole in the sidewall of the horn. I have fabricated a ram’s horn into a side-blown instrument that has a beautiful and stirring shofar-like voice. But is it actually a shofar, or just a side-blown keren? That is to ask, is the prevalence of end-blown shofar a matter of minhag – custom, or of halachah – Jewish Law?
When I started making shofarot, I had a few cursory written instructions and the legacy of our written and oral Torah, but no teacher to show me how to fashion the horn. So I drew upon my architectural training and “asked the horn what it wanted to be.”
After several experiments and much examination of the topology of the full-curl ram’s horn I had, I realized the hollow cavity in the horn (from which I had removed the bone core), extended only about three-quarters of the length of the horn. More, the remaining, tip, the solid part of the horn had too much curvature to allow me to drill a straight bore from its extreme end into the hollow cavity. That left me with three design options for making a blowhorn:
First, I could try to straighten the tip so I could drill a straight bore into the cavity. While this method is used with most contemporary, commercially produced shofarot, it was not a viable solution for me. The horner guilds that arose during the Middle Ages (and whose legacy lives on among more skilled shofarot producers) refined their craft to an art. Straightening or bending horns became a signature of their expertise. I lack their craft and perhaps their patience. More, I wanted to discover what would have been a pragmatic solution for a simple nomadic shepherd to use.
Second, I could saw off the tip of the horn just a short distance above the horn cavity. From there, I could drill a short, straight bore into the cavity (Details B and D). This was, in fact, the design I chose for the first shofar I fabricated. On the plus side, the broad cut that resulted exposed a wide surface into which I could form a large and easy-to-blow blowhole. But I lost too much length of the horn and what was left was visually awkward.
This led me to my third alternative – a side-blown horn (Detail A). My research revealed that side blown horns were common in Africa. Since our first Biblical encounter with shofarot, at Sinai, occurred just after leaving Africa, it is possible that African precedents informed our original designs. More, archeological finds in the land of Israel have included side-blown instruments made of ivory and suggest that side blown horns may also have existed. Emboldened by this data, I selected a side-blown design for the next shofar I fabricated.
This side-blown ivory trumpet, found at Bittir, Israel and from the 1st or 2nd Century, is over 32” long.
The result is stunning. In addition to its rich tone, it can be grasped with two hands in a manner that feels very secure and right for blowing shofar. I have not attempted to sand or polish the horn; it retains the strength and integrity it had when it crowned the ram. The horn balances on edge when stood on a table or when suspended by its tip, reminding me that our destiny hangs in the balance when we stand in judgment on Rosh Hashanah. And the spiral form is a visual map of the path of teshuvah. (See Chapter 3-13 – Spirituality and “Spirality.”)
A full curl ram’s horn has an innate ability to balance, a reminder of how our deeds are weighed in the balance during the High Holy Days.
Demonstrated how a side blown horn can be held with two hands.
Shulchan Aruch, the 16th Century codification of Jewish law compiled by Rabbi Joeseph Caro, says:
“If one inverted the shofar and blew with it he will not have fulfilled his oblication, irrespective of whether he inverted it in the manner that one inverts a shirt, by turning the inside outwards, or whether he left it as it was, but widened the narrow part and shortened the wide part.”
I understand a great spiritual truth in this teaching. If the shofar is to call us to an honest self examination, it must also have an honest constitution. Our soul, our inner self, must be in correct alignment with the outward appearance we would have. The shofar’s soul – its voice – must similarly come from its inner essence.
I can not accept, with equal enthusiasm, the Mishneh Berurah’s elaboration on this. Misneh Berurah, Volume 6, the 1907 commentary on the Shulchan Aruch by Rabbi Israel Meir Kagan, the “Chofetz Chaim”, expands the injunction as follows:
“The reason is that it is written, ‘Ve-ha’avarta (and you proclaim) with the sound of a shofar’, i.e., the proclamation is required to be made in the manner in which the shofar is taken about [because the word ve-ha’avarta also denotes ‘and you should take about’].”
Rams “take about” horns that are not straightened or truncated, but in a condition that more closely resembles my side-blown shofar than does an end-blown horn.
The Chofetz Chaim continues:
“This means that the shofar must be held in the manner that the ram takes about the horn on its head when it is alive… The reason for this ruling is also that we require it to be held as it grew, with the narrow side opposite the person’s mouth.”
A respected rabbi explained to me that a shofar can be compared to the lulav and etrog, about which Maimonides said:
“He must take them as they grow – i.e., their roots below towards the earth, and their heads upwards towards the sky… Once a person lifts up these four species…he has fulfilled his obligation. [This applies] only when he lifts them up as they grow. However, if he does not lift them up as they grow, he has not fulfilled his obligation.”
The principal of using something as it grows is stated in Sukkah 45b and derived from Exodus 26:15: “You shall make the planks for the Tabernacle of acacia wood, upright.” A commentator says, “Implied in this is that all mitzvot fulfilled with agricultural products must be performed while they are in an upright position.”
I argue that the application of the halachah about lulav and etrog do not apply to shofar:
· It is not clear that animal products are considered “agricultural products.” If they were, we would have to orient leather tefillin straps, parchment used for the Torah, and perhaps even the bone and egg on a seder tray right side up.
· The mitzvah of the lulav and etrog is the holding of them. The mitzvah of the shofar is the hearing of its voice and is independent of the position in which it is held. The difference between these two mitzvot is made clear in the laws about using stolen goods: the obligation of holding a lulav and etrog cannot be fulfilled with a stolen etrog. However one’s obligation to hear shofar can be fulfilled with a stolen horn because, “the laws of theft do not apply to sound alone.”
· It may seem obvious which position is upright when we look at an adult animal. But if the animal is a mammal, would its “roots” require that parts taken from it be oriented according to the position of its navel?
· If we were to hold a horn as it grew on an adult animal, we would blow shofar with its wide end – the part that attaches to the top of a skull – towards the earth. But the common practice is to blow it with the wide end upward.
Both Designs A and C are side blown. But in Design C, the air enters at a distance from the top of the horn cavity. Design A, however, shows that a side-blown shofar can be constructed so that air blown into the horn travels the entire length of the horn cavity. In this sense, such a side-blown horn satisfies the halachahic intent that a shofar be made from a single, intact horn; it has not been turned inside out, manipulated so the wide end became the narrow end and visa versa, patched together from several horns, perforated or cracked, placed inside another horn, nor otherwise violated the written teachings about maintaining the integrity of a shofar. If the distance from the blowhole to the wide end exceeds the width of a hand, and one did not add material to nor alter the sound of the shofar, I maintain that a side-blown shofar can comply with halachic requirements.
More, if one cut horn “A” as shown by the dashed line, the result would be an end-blown horn. Based on this observation, the side-blown horn can be seen as a type of end-blown horn with its tip retained as a type of natural ornamentation. This would conform to the concept of hiddur mitzah, the beautification of ritual objects as a way to glorify God.
Finally, I return to my original analysis of the form and structure of a ram’s horn. The nomads of our distant past, following their herds, lived simple lives with primitive tools. The fastest, easiest way for them to convert a horn into a shofar would have been to grind a hole in the side wall of the shofar. Accepting side-blown instruments into our legal canon would be a way to reaffirm the ancient origins of the shofar and the antiquity of our Tribal use of the horn to call to God.
Ironically, I also believe the side-blown shofar enables me to fulfill the principle of, “take them as they grow.” Cutting off the tip of the would be like removing the pitam – the small protrusion from which the etrog’s flower grows, something that renders an etrog unfit for ritual use. By using the horn in the natural shape in which it grew, I show my respect for the animal that provided the horn and my appreciation for the design of its Creator rather than manipulating its shape to meet my will.
“…both ears of anyone who hears about it will tingle.”
“…on the morning when God was to reveal the Torah to them on Mount Sinai, the entire people of Israel overslept! For three days they prepared for the great theophany, and when the very special morning arrived, all the thunder and lightning and the blaring voice of the shofar were present in order to awaken the sleeping masses who had almost missed the entire event!”
“In the medieval mystical book the Zohar, the tekiah blast is referred to as Kol Lehitorerut, a call to be alert and awake.”
“The shofar calls to each of us: Wake up! You have great things to do this year.”
This High Holiday advertisement casts a positive spin on similar-sounding words.
God’s Fingerprints in History
“I have always associated Spain with the infamous Inquisition of 1492 during which our people were condemned to tortures more horrible than death... Given this background, it was with mixed feelings that I arrived in Spain... Among the many stories that I heard in Spain, the one that truly astounded me was the revelation that it was only in 1992 that King Juan Carlos, under the influence of his Queen, Sophia, officially annulled the edict of the Inquisition barring Jews to gather to worship in Spain.
“I was told that the local
rabbi presented the king with a shofar in memory of that horrific time of The
Inquisition, and in doing so, recalled the story of Don Fernando Aguilar, who
was the conductor of the Royal Orchestra of Barcelona. He was among those who,
under torture, renounced his faith, but in his heart, he remained loyal to HaShem. As Rosh Hashanah approached, Don Aguilar yearned to
hear the sound of the shofar. He came up with an amazing plan to present a concert
on Rosh Hashanah featuring pieces by various composers. Many Marranos
attended...they too yearned to hear the sound of the shofar. Various
compositions were played, and than with tears in his eyes Don Aguilar lifted
the Shofar sounded the unmistakable sounds of “tekiah,”
“shevarim, and “teruah”
and all the Marranos in the concert hall wept silently.
”Today, the shofar can be sounded once again in Spain, but this time, before sounding the shofar, a loud and clear bracha – blessing – is made and the Jews respond ‘Amen’.”
During appeals, many Jewish Federations and synagogue building funds will display a placard in the shape of a thermometer. As the fundraising campaigns continue, the “mercury” is colored to graphically show progress towards their monetary goals. The fundraisers may be better served by making their scoreboards in the form of shofarot. That’s because the tzadakah boxes – containers for charitable donations – in the Second Temple in Jerusalem were shaped like giant shofarot – the plural of shofar.
Talmud reports that there were thirteen shofarot in the forecourt of the Temple; truncated cones with their wide ends at the bottom and their narrow ends at the top with an opening into which coins could be deposited. The coin of choice was the half shekel in accordance with the ransom required of each Israelite. Each horn was marked for a different tithe or as a symbolic offering instead of the sacrifices Torah stipulates for various atonements.
It has been suggested that there were practical reasons for the horn shape of the container; the wide bottom made the containers stable and the narrow opening at top made it difficult for someone to reach inside to steal donations.
I believe there were other, equally practical reasons for the shape. Like the horns on the altar (Meditation for Eleventh Day of Elul in Volume One), the primitive practice of placating a horned deity with sacrifices lingered on in symbolic form. In their own iconic way, the horns reminded people of the dangers that lurked if they did not redeem themselves.
Perhaps a shofar-shaped tzadakah box or appeal would have the same effect to lubricate our wallets and checkbooks. While horns may no longer conjure visceral images of a dangerous godhead, it will remind people of the pledges they made during the High Holy Days when the voice of the horn still calls us to tzadakah.
Then, once again, the shofar would be a cornucopia, a horn of plenty.
The Shofar’s Question
“One of my colleagues had the custom of holding up his shofar to show that it was in the shape of a question mark… If one strikes the keyboard of a piano, it produces a note. But if one blows into the shofar – even though one has some skill and has blown successfully on a dozen previous occasions – there is always a doubt. Responding to the atmosphere in the synagogue, or the spirit of the service, or some hidden facet of the blower's state of being, the shofar may simply refuse to produce any sound at all. There is always a mystery, always a question…
“What is the shofar's question? There is an important clue in the story of Elijah, who journeyed for 40 days to reach the mountain of the Lord and entered the very same cave where God was revealed to Moses. There he heard the terrifying sounds of earthquakes, fire, and thunder. But they left him unmoved; he remained in his cave. When, however, he heard the voice of fine silence, he was struck by awe and understood that this was a summons he had to answer. Covering his face with his mantle, he came out to confront the ultimate question, “What are you doing here, Elijah?"
“That same sound of fine silence is likened in the liturgy to the voice of the shofar, as it says: ‘The great shofar will be blown, and the voice of fine silence will be heard.’ So the question of the shofar is simply: What are we doing here, you and I? It is addressed to each of us and pursues us all our lives.”
As Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, describes,
“The word for angel in Hebrew, “malach” means also “messenger.” As its name in Hebrew signifies, the nature of the angel is to be an envoy to a degree, thereby constituting a permanent contact between worlds. An angel's missions transpire in two directions: it may serve as an emissary of G-d toward the earthly…and/or it may also serve as the one who carries heavenwards from below, from our world to the higher worlds.”
With respect to shofar, we can cite the angel that stayed Abraham’s execution of Isaac, an event inextricably linked to shofar, as an example of an angel serving as an emissary of God.
Other angels linked to shofar work in the opposite direction. The machzor – High Holy Day prayer book – invokes angels to carry the shofar blasts heavenward. For example, an orthodox machzor includes the following prayer for the shofar blower to recite silently before sounding shofar, with instructions that, “The angelic names that appear in brackets should be scanned with the eyes, but not spoken:” 
“May it be Your will, HaShem…that You send me all the pure angels, the ministers who are trusty in their mission and who desire to vindicate Your people, Israel. These angels are: the great angel ]פצפציה[ who is appointed to draw forth Israel’s merits at the time when Your people Israel sounds the shofar; the great angel [תשבש] who is appointed to make heard the merits of Israel to alarm the Satan when they are blown; the great angels ]הדרניאל, סנדלפן[ who are appointed over the shofar blast, who raise our shofar blasts before The Throne of Your Glory; the angel [שמשיאל] appointed over the teruah; and the angel]תרסטאל[ appointed over the tekiah-shevarim-teruah-tekiah. May they all be ready for their mission, to raise our shofar blasts before the heavenly curtain and before the Throne of Your Glory…”
According to the same machzor, some congregations recite the following after the tekiah-shevarim-teruah-tekiah blasts:
“May it be Your will that the tekiah-shevarim-teruah-tekiah blasts that we sound be embroidered in the heavenly curtain by the appointed angel ]טרטיא״ל[ and the ministering angel]מט״ט[ of the Inner Chamber…”
Angels such as these, Steinsaltz says, “have existed from the very beginning of time, for they are an unfaltering part of the Eternal Being and the fixed order of the universe. These angels in a sense constitute the channels of plenty through which the divine grace rises and descends in the worlds.”
Shofar blasts also manifest a different type of angel. According to Steinsaltz,
“…there are also angels that are continuously being created anew…where thoughts, deeds, and experiences give rise to angels of different kinds. Every mitzvah that a man does is not only an act of transformation in the material world, it is also a spiritual act, sacred in itself. And this aspect of concentrated spirituality and holiness in the mitzvah is the chief component of that which becomes an angel. In other words, the emotion, the intention, and the essential holiness of the act combine to become the essence of the mitzvah as an existence in itself, as something that has objective reality…
“More precisely, the person who performs a mitzvah, who prays or directs his mind toward the Divine, in so doing, creates an angel, which is a sort of reaching out on the part of man to the higher worlds. ..the mitzvah acquires substance, and, in turn, influences the worlds above. It is certainly a supreme act when what is done below becomes detached from particular physical place, time, and person and becomes an angel.”
It is in reference to this type of angel that the machzor says,
“(And so) may it be Your Will, HaShem, our God and the God of our forefathers, that these angels that are evoked by the shofar…ascend before the Throne of Your Glory and invoke goodness on our behalf, to pardon all our sins.”
In the first German Reform Services held for the Jewish New Year in 1845, “the shofar blast was not heard since its use was encrusted with kabbalistic notions and its raucous, primitive sound was believed more likely to disturb devotion than to stimulate it.”
"God blessed Abraham with Everything."
“QUESTION: What was the ‘everything?’
“ANSWER: When the letters of the word “bakol” – “everything” – are spelled out the way they are pronounced, i.e. beit, kaf, lamed, the total numerical value is 586. This is the same numerical value as the word ‘shofar.’
“Yitzchak was originally destined to be brought up on the altar as a sacrifice. When the angel intervened, he was spared, and instead Abraham sacrificed a ram which suddenly appeared. From the horn of this ram, a shofar was made which was sounded when HaShem gave the Torah to the Jewish people. This shofar will also be sounded to announce the revelation of Mashiach. Thus Yitzchak plays an important role in the giving of Torah and coming of Mashiach. To the Jewish people, Torah and Mashiach are ‘everything,’ and Abraham was blessed with a son who will be involved in the delivery of ‘everything’ to Klal Yisrael.”
The Shofar Award
“The National Jewish Committee on Scouting established the Shofar Award to recognize outstanding service by adults in the promotion of Scouting among Jewish youth. Just as the Shofar (Ram's Horn) calls people to the service of God, so the Shofar Award is a recognition of the individual who has answered the call to serve Jewish youth in Scouting.”
“I am the Walrus”
“The mishnah discusses the case of a walrus. Since it inhabits both sea and land, does it have the laws of a fish or of an animal? The mishnah rules that since in time of great danger it flees from the water and takes refuge on land, it is a land animal. Similarly, even an estranged Jew remains Jewish, so long as he returns “home” when threatened. The shofar is his homing signal. The cry from the Jewish heart that says, ‘I belong here,’ and the echoing cry from God’s heart that says, ‘Yes, the door is open.’ That is why there was an intense shofar sound when the Torah was given and that is why the shofar will sound again to herald the final redemption. It is the instrument that says that when no words are possible, no words are needed.”
“550 respondents to the National Jewish Outreach Program’s online survey about the High Holy Days – Jews affiliated one way or interested…. To the surprise of organizers, slightly more than half the survey respondents said that, for them, the most important part of High Holy Day services was prayer. Only 15 per cent chose “hearing the shofar” in the multiple-choice questionnaire.”
A Botanical Shofar
“When he looked at the word ‘shofar,’ the Holy Jew saw an abbreviation for ‘shoresh poreh rosh ve-la'anah,’ which translates as ‘a root growing poison weed and wormwood.’ No matter how low we may have sunk, even to the extent of feeling like a bitter and poisonous plant, that very bitterness has transformative power, symbolized by the uplifting sounds of the shofar. …the only way we can make sense of our sins is by seeing them as opportunities to do more profound teshuvah than ever before, so that we can scale previously unimagined heights of holiness.”
From Generation to Generation
“Balak the Moavite king asked Balaam the sorcerer to curse the Jewish people. Balaam answered, ‘…the Lord their God is with them, and the trumpeting of the king is in them. The Lord God is with them so what can I do? They are protected in the merit of Moshe.’
“‘Then curse the next generation,’ said Balak.
“‘That I can’t do either,’ said Balaam, ‘because of the merit of Joshua. He, too, has God with him; he blows the shofar and the walls of Jericho came tumbling down.’”
Shofar in Kabbalah
Throughout this book, I make several references to the Tree of Life, to angels, and to other concepts that come from kabbalah and the mystical traditions of Judaism. Kabbalistic writings like the Zohar and the teachings of many Hasidic rabbis contain more teachings about shofar. For example, there are teachings that link the several types of shofar blasts to the mystical attributes of the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I have not tried to explain these because they require more understanding of kabbalah than I have acquired. Teachers qualified in these esoteric traditions are available, and “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”
The following is a small sample of the mystical writings about shofar:
“When the world is renewed in time to come, everything will be conducted in a miraculous manner – that is, through Divine providence alone, which transcends nature…
“Then a new song will be awakened. As the verse proclaims: ‘Sing unto God a new song, for He has performed wonders…’ This is the song of the future world, the song of Divine providence – the paradigm of the miraculous. For then the world will be governed through Divine providence and wonders… This is a song of nature, a song of the heavenly bodies in their constellations and orbits. This is the song of the present state of reality, in which God guides His world through the order of nature.
“…This new song will be a fourfold song: simple, doubled, tripled, and quadrupled. This corresponds to the successive revelation of the essential Divine Name Yud-Hey-Vav-Hey: the simple song is Yud, the doubled song is Yud-Hey, the tripled song is Yud-Hey-Vav, and the quadrupled song is Yud-Hey-Vav-Hey. Through this, the four worlds of Emanation, Creation, Formation, and Action attain unification and harmony.
“Altogether, this combination of holy letters bears the gematria (numerical value) of 72, corresponding to the gematria of chesed (kindness). For this song is bound up with the fulfillment of the Divine promise: ‘The world will be renewed with chesed.’ Thus, it will be played on an instrument of 72 strings.
“This song is the sound of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah. It is the sound that awakens the soul from its sleep. It is the voice of the tzaddik, who knows how to give holy reproof without poisoning the spiritual fragrance of those to whom he speaks. It is the pristine river that waters the Garden of Eden and splits into four tributaries. It is the song of the Divine Oneness from which everything comes forth, and to which everything returns.”
God’s Concern for the Animal
“As wild goats hesitate to pause to drink from waterholes lest their enemies, laying in wait, attack and kill them, God causes frightening sounds to emanate from their horns and terrorize their adversaries. The goats may thus safely stop for nourishment.”
Rosh Hashanah on the Battlefield
A veteran recalls Jewish New Year services during World War II when he was stationed east of Cologne, Germany, preparing to cross the Rhine River: “We dug in behind a forest, and they had a rabbi come from Paris, France, to Germany, and we celebrated about an hour or an hour and a half before we were called back to the front lines," Green recounted. “And during the services, you blow the shofar 44 times. And we didn't have a shofar, so somebody shot off an M28 44 times -- and that had to do for a shofar. And the rabbi thought that was pretty good."
The centrality of shofar in the Jewish psyche can be better understood when we realize how frequently Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible, refers to shofar and its blasts. Additional references to ĥatzotzrot – trumpets, tekiah and teruah - blasts, yovel – another word for horn, and other aspects of horns supplement this understanding, even if the references are not directly linked to shofar. For example, knowing that the altar in the Temple had “horns” links shofar blowing to the holiness of the Temple sacrifices.
Many of the following verses are elaborated upon elsewhere in Hearing Shofar. I encourage you to mine this compendium for insights to help you hear and understand the many voices of shofar. Examination of the many passages referring to sheep, k’lee – instruments, or related terms can also enhance our understanding of shafar.
A Note on the Hebrew: The Hebrew terms in parentheses below are the basic Hebrew form of the word or phrase, simplified to omit tense, plural and other grammatical constructions.
And Adah bore Jabal; he was the ancestor of those who dwell in tents and amidst herds. And the name of his brother was Jubal (yovel); he was the ancestor of all who play who play the lyre and the pipe.
And he said, “Here are the firestone and the wood; but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?” And Abraham said, “God will see to the sheep for His burnt offering, my son.”… When Abraham looked up, his eye fell upon a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns (keren). So Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering in place of his son.
When the ram’s horn (yovel) sounds a long blast, they may go up on the mountain.
On the third day, as morning dawned, there was thunder, and lightning, and a dense cloud upon the mountain, and a very loud voice of the shofar (shofar); and all the people who were in the camp trembled… The voice of the shofar (shofar) grew louder and louder…
And the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the voice of the shofar (shofar) and the mountain smoking…”
You shall make the altar… Make its horns (keren) on the four corners, the horns (keren) to be of one piece with it; and overlay it with copper.
…and take some of the bull’s blood and put it on the horns (keren) of the altar with your finger…
And as Moses came down from the mountain bearing the two tablets of the Pact, Moses was not aware that the skin of his face was radiant (keren), since he had spoken with Him. Aaron and all the Israelites saw that the skin of Moses’ face was radiant (keren); and they shrank from coming near him.
He made the altar… He made horns (keren) for it on its four corners, the horns (keren) being of one piece with it; and he overlaid it with copper.
…Moses took the blood and with his finger put some on each of the horns (keren) of the altar, cleansing the altar…
(From Yom Kippur morning Torah reading.)
And from the Israelite community he shall take two he-goats for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering… Aaron shall take the two he-goats and let them stand before the Lord at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting; and he shall place lots upon the two goats, one marked for the Lord and the other marked for Azazel. Aaron shall bring forward the goat designated by lot for the Lord, which he is to offer as a sin offering. While the goat designated by lot for Azazel shall be left standing alive before the Lord, to make expiation with it and to send it off to the wilderness for Azazel… He shall then slaughter the people’s goat of sin offering, bring its blood behind the curtain, and…he shall sprinkle it over the cover and in front of the cover. Thus he shall purge the Shrine of the uncleanness and transgression of the Israelites, and he shall do the same for the Tent of Meeting, which abides with them in the midst of their uncleanness… he shall take some of the blood…of the goat and apply it to each of the horns (keren) of the altar, and the rest of the blood he shall sprinkle on it with his finger seven times… When he has finished purging the Shrine, the Tent of Meeting, and the altar, the live goat shall be brought forward. Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat and confess over it all the iniquities and transgressions of the Israelites, whatever their sins, putting them on the head of the goat; and it shall be sent off to the wilderness through a designated man. Thus shall the goat carry on it all their iniquities to an inaccessible region; and the goat shall be set free in the wilderness… He who set the Azazel-goat free shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water; after that he may reenter the camp.
…they may offer their sacrifices no more to the goat-demons after whom they stray.
(See Meditation for 12th Day of Elul in Volume One)
In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe complete rest, a sacred occasion remembered with blasts (teruah).
(See Meditation for 13th Day of Elul in Volume One)
Then you shall sound the shofar blast (teruah); in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month – the Day of Atonement – you shall have the shofar sounded throughout the land and you shall hallow the fiftieth year. You shall proclaim release throughout the land for all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee (yovel) for you…
The Liberty Bell in Philadelphia is inscribed with words from Leviticus 25: "Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof”
(See Meditation for 14th Day of Elul in Volume One)
Have two silver trumpets (ĥatzotzrot) made; make them of hammered work. They shall serve you to summon the community and to set the divisions in motion. When both are blown in long blasts (tekiah), the whole community shall assemble before you at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting; and if only one is blown (tekiah), the chieftains, heads of Israel’s contingents, shall assemble before you. But when you sound short blasts (tekiah teruah), the divisions encamped on the east shall move forward; and when you sound short blasts (tekiah teruah) a second time, those encamped on the south shall move forward. Thus short blasts shall be blown (teruah tekiah) for setting them in motion, while to convoke the congregation you shall blow long blasts (tekiah), not broken ones (teruah). The trumpets shall be blown (tekiah ĥatzotzrot) by Aaron’s sons, the priests; they shall be for you an institution for all time throughout the ages. When you are at war in your land against an aggressor who attacks you, you shall sound short blasts on the trumpets (teruah ĥatzotzrot), that you may be remembered before the Lord your God and be delivered from your enemies. And on your joyous occasions – your fixed festivals and new moon days – you shall sound the trumpets (tekiah ĥatzotzrot) over your burnt offerings and your sacrifices of well-being. They shall be a reminder of you before your God: I, the Lord, am your God.
No harm is in sight for Jacob,
No woe in view for Israel.
The Lord their God is with them,
And their King’s acclaim (teruah) in their midst.
God who freed them from Egypt
Is for them like the “horns” (also translated as strength or swiftness) of a wild ox.
In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe a sacred occasion: you shall not work at your occupations. You shall observe it as a day of blasts (teruah).
Moses dispatched them on the campaign, a thousand from each tribe, with Phinehas son of Eleazar serving as priest on the campaign, equipped with the sacred utensils (k’lee) and the trumpets of the blasts (ĥatzotzrot teruah).
He has horns (keren) like the horns (keren) of the wild-ox;
With them he gores the peoples,
The ends of the earth one and all.
(See Meditation for 16th Day of Elul in Volume One.)
The Lord said to Joshua, “See, I will deliver Jericho and her king [and her] warriors into your hands. Let all your troops march around the city and complete one circuit of the city. Do this six days with seven priests carrying seven ram’s horns (shofar) preceding the Ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the horns (tekiah shofarot). And when a long blast (also translated as “prolongation”) is sounded on the horn (keren yovel) – as soon as you hear that sound of the horn (kol shofar) – all the people shall give a mighty shout. Thereupon the city wall will collapse, and the people shall advance, every man straight ahead.”
(In verses 6-7, Joshua’s son relates the above instructions to the people.)
When Joshua had instructed the people, the seven priests carrying seven ram’s horns (shofar) advanced before the Lord, blowing their horns… The vanguard marched in front of the priests who were blowing the horns (shofar yovel)… with the horns sounding (tekiah shofar) all the time.
(In verses 12-14 we are told about the marching on days one through six, “blowing the horns as they marched” and “with the horns sounding all the time.”)
On the seventh day, they rose at daybreak and marched around the city, in the same manner, seven times; that was the one day that they marched around the city seven times. On the seventh round, as the priest blew the horns (tekiah shofar), Joshua commanded the people, “Shout! For the Lord has given you the city… So the people shouted (tekiah) when the horns (shofar) were sounded. When the people heard the sound of the horns (kol shofar), the people raised a mighty shout (teruah) and the walls collapsed. The people rushed into the city, every man straight in front of him, and they captured the city. They exterminated everything in the city…
But Ehud had made good his escape while they delayed; he had passed Peslim and escaped to Seirah. When he got there, he had the ram’s horn (shofar) sounded through the hill country of Ephraim, and all the Israelites descended with him from the hill country; and he took the lead.
The spirit of the Lord enveloped Gideon; he sounded the horn (shofar), and the Abiezrites rallied behind him.
(See discussion in Chapter 3-1 – Shepherd Nation.)
“…I will put Midian into your hands through the three hundred ‘lappers’; let the rest of the troops go home.” So [the lappers] took the provisions and horns (shofar) that the other men had with them, and he sent the rest of the men of Israel back to their homes, retaining only the three hundred men.
(See Meditation for 17th Day of Elul in Volume One.)
[Gideon] divided the three hundred men into three columns and equipped each with a ram’s horn (shofar) and an empty jar… When I and all those with me blow our horns (tekiah shofar), you too, all around the camp, will blow your horns (tekiah shofar) and shout, “For the Lord and for Gideon.” Gideon and the hundred men with him arrived at the outposts of the camp… They sounded the horns (tekiah shofar), and smashed the jars that they had with them, and the three columns blew their horns (tekiah shofar) and broke their jars…[and] they shouted… They remained standing where they were, surrounding the camp; but the entire camp ran about yelling, and took to flight. For when the three hundred horns were sounded (tekiah shofar), the Lord turned every man’s sword against his fellow…and the entire camp fled…
(The Song of Hannah, traditionally read on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, begins and ends with references to horns.)
And Hannah prayed:
I have triumphed [literally “My horn (keren) is high”] through the Lord;
I gloat [literally “My mouth is wide”] over my enemies;
I rejoice in Your deliverance.
The foes of the Lord shall be shattered;
He will thunder against them in the heavens.
The Lord will judge the ends of the earth.
He will give power to His king,
And triumph to [Literally, “And will raise the horn (keren) of”] His anointed one.
(Was the teruah sounded by shouting or blowing shofar? Perhaps both, since the first sentence uses “yarihou” (shouting) as well as teruah. Perhaps a better translation would be, “…all Israel shouted and blew big [shofar] blasts so that the earth resounded.)
When the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord entered the camp, all Israel burst into a great shout (teruah gedolah), so that the earth resounded. The Philistines heard the noise of the shouting (teruah) and they wondered, “Why is there such a loud shouting (teruah gedolah) in the camp of the Hebrews?”
Saul had the ram’s horn (shofar) sounded throughout the land, saying, Let the Hebrews hear.”
(Samuel uses the voice of sheep to prick the conscience of Saul.)
Than what is this bleating of sheep in my ears…?
(While not specifically identified as such, the flask used by Samuel to anoint Saul in 1 Samuel 10:1 was probably also a horn.)
And the Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn (keren) with oil and set out; I am sending you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have decided on one of his sons to be king.”
Then Samuel asked Jesse, “Are these all the boys you have?” He replied, “There is still the youngest; he is tending the flock.”… Samuel took the horn (keren) of oil and anointed him in the presences of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord gripped David from that day on.
Samuel anoints David with oil from a horn. Fresco, Dura Europos Synagogue. Prior to 256 CE.
(See Meditation for 18th Day of Elul in Volume One.)
Joab then sounded the horn (shofar), and all the troops halted; they ceased their pursuit of Israel and stopped the fighting.
(See Meditation for 19th Day of Elul in Volume One.)
Thus David and all the House of Israel brought up the Ark of the Lord with shouts (teruah) and with blasts of the horn (kol shofar).
(See Meditation for 20th Day of Elul in Volume One.)
But Absalom sent agents to all the tribes of Israel to say, “When you hear the blast of the horn (shofar), announce that Absalom has become king in Hebron.”
(See Meditation for 20th Day of Elul in Volume One.)
Then Joab sounded the horn (shofar), and the troops gave up their pursuit of the Israelites; for Joab held the troops in check.
A scoundrel named Sheba son of Bichri, a Benjaminite, happened to be there. He sounded the horn (shofar) and proclaimed: “We have no portion in David, no share in Jesse’s son! Every man to his tent, O Israel!”
After squashing a rebellion…
[Joab] then sounded the horn (shofar); all the men dispersed to their homes, and Joab returned to the king in Jerusalem.
Then King David said… “Let the priest Zadok and the prophet Nathan anoint him there king over Israel, whereupon you shall sound the horn (shofar) and shout, “Long live King Solomon!”
The priest Zadok took the horn (keren) of oil from the Tent and anointed Solomon. They sounded the horn (shofar) and all the people shouted, “Long live King Solomon!” All the people then marched up behind him, playing on flutes and making merry till the earth was split open by the uproar. Adonijah and all the guests who were with him, who had just finished eating, heard it. When Joab heard the sound of the horn (shofar), he said, “Why is the city in such an uproar?”
Adonijah, in fear of Solomon, went at once [to the Tent] and grasped the horns (keren) of the alter. It was reported to Solomon: “Adonijaj is in fear of King Solomon and has grasped the horns (keren) of the alter.
When the news reached Joab, he fled to the Tent of the Lord and grasped the horns (keren) of the Alter – for Joab had sided with Adonijah, though he had not sided with Absalom.
(The Hebrew of the second phrase of this verse is, “ein Satan V’ein Pega Ra.” The initial Hebrew letters of these words form the acronym “shofar” and allude to the power of shofar to confound the evil impulse. This verse is the only instance in Tanakh where the initial or final letters of consecutive words spell “shofar.”)
But now the Lord my God has given me respite all around; there is no adversary and no mischance.
(One of many verses in which Israel is compared to sheep or goats.)
…when the Israelites encamped against [the Arameans], they looked like two flocks of goats, while the Arameans covered the land.
They sounded the horn (tekiah shofar) and proclaimed, “Jehu is king!”
They anointed him and proclaimed him king; they clapped their hands and shouted, “Long live the king.” … saw the king standing by the pillar, as was the custom, the chiefs with their trumpets (ĥatzotzrot) beside the king, and all the people of the land rejoicing and blowing trumpets (tekiah ĥatzotzrot).
All you who live in the world
And inhabit the earth,
When a flag is raised in the hills, take note!
When a ram’s horn (shofar) is blown, give heed!
(See Meditation for 21st Day of Elul in Volume One.)
And in that day, a great ram’s horn (shofar) shall be sounded; and the strayed who are in the land of Assyria and the expelled who are in the land of Egypt shall come and worship the Lord on the holy mount, in Jerusalem.
(Yom Kippur morning Haftorah. See Meditation for 22nd Day of Elul in Volume One.)
Cry with full throat, without restraint;
Raise your voice like a ram’s horn (shofar)!
Declare to My people their transgression.
To the House of Jacob their sin.
Proclaim to Judah,
Announce in Jerusalem,
“Blow the horn (tekiah shofar) in the land!”
Shout aloud and say:
“Assemble, and let us go
Into the fortified cities!”
Oh, my suffering, my suffering!
How I writhe!
Oh, the walls of my heart!
My heart moans within me,
I cannot be silent;
For I hear the blare of horns (kol shofar),
Alarms of war.
Disaster overtakes disaster,
For all the land has been ravaged.
Suddenly my tents have been ravaged,
In a moment, my tent cloths.
How long must I see standards
And hear the blare of horns (kol shofar)?
(The initial letters of the Hebrew in the third and fourth lines of this verse contain the acronym “teshuvah” and allude to the power of the shofar to awaken repentance. This verse is the only instance in Tanakh where the initial or final letters of consecutive words spell “shofar.”)
Flee for refuge, O people of Benjamin,
Out of the midst of Jerusalem!
Blow the horn (tekiah shofar) in Tekoa,
Set up a signal at Beth-haccherem!
For evil is appearing from the north,
And great disaster.
(See Meditation for 23rd Day of Elul in Volume One.)
And I raised up watchmen for you:
“Harken to the sound of the horn (kol shofar)!”
But they said, “We will not.”
…if you say, ‘No!’ We will go to the land of Egypt, so that we may not see war or hear the sound of the horn (kol shofar), and so that we may not hunger for bread, there we will stay,’ then hear the word of the Lord, O remnant of Judah!…
Raise a standard on earth,
Sound a horn (tekiah shofar) among the nations…
(The expression translated below as “they have sounded the horn” is ta-koo b'takoo-ah in transliteration. This means something like "blast the blaster". It employs the rhetorical device of paronomasia to poetic effect. This is the only instance in Tanach where the phrase is used.)
They have sounded the horn, and all is prepared; but no one goes to battle, for my wrath is directed against all her multitude.
When I bring the sword against a country, the citizens of that country take one of their number and appoint him their watchman. Suppose he sees the sword advancing against the country, and he blows the horn (tekiah shofar) and warns the people. If anybody hears the sound of the horn (kol shofar) but ignores the warning, and the sword comes and dispatches him, his blood shall be on his own head. Since he heard the sound of the horn (kol shofar) but ignored the warning, his bloodguilt shall be upon himself; had he taken the warning, he would have saved his life. But if the watchman sees the sword advancing and does not blow the horn (tekiah shofar), so that the people are not warned, and the sword comes and destroys one of them, that person was destroyed for his own sins; however, I will demand a reckoning for his blood from the watchman.
Sound a ram’s horn (tekiah shofar) in Gilbeath,
A trumpet (ĥatzotzrot) in Ramah;
Give the alarm in Beth-aven,
After you, Benjamin!
Ephraim is stricken with horror
On a day of chastisement.
[Put] a shofar (shofar) to your mouth –
Like an eagle over the House of the Lord;
Because they have transgressed My covenant
And been faithless to My teaching.
Israel cries out to Me,
“O my God, we are devoted to You.”
Blow a shofar (tekiah shofar) in Zion,
Sound an alarm on My holy mount!
Let all dwellers on earth tremble,
For the day of the Lord has come!
(From Haftorah of Shabbat Shuvah, the Sabbath between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.)
Blow a horn (tekiah shofar) in Zion,
Solemnize a fast,
Proclaim an assembly!
(While this verse does not specifically reference shofar, it poetically introduces the other shofar images used by Amos.)
The Lord roars from Zion,
Shouts aloud from Jerusalem…
I will set fire to the wall of Rabbah,
And it shall devour its fortresses,
Amid shouting (teruah) on a day of battle,
On a day of violent tempest.
I will send down fire upon Moab,
And it shall devour the fortresses of Kerioth.
And Moab shall die in tumult,
Amid shouting (teruah) and the blare of horns (kol shofar)…
When a ram’s horn (shofar) is sounded in a town,
Do the people not take alarm?
The prophet Amos from a manuscript in the British Library.
His majesty covers the skies,
His splendor fills the earth:
It is a brilliant light
Which gives off rays (keren) on every side –
And therein His glory is enveloped.
A day of horn blasts and alarms (shofar teruah) –
Against the fortified towns
And the lofty corner towers.
I looked up, and I saw four horns (keren). I asked the angel who talked with me, “What are those?” “Those,” he replied, “are the horns (keren) that tossed Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem.” Then the Lord showed me four smiths. “What are they coming to do?” I asked. He replied: “Those are the horns (keren) that tossed Judah, so than no man could raise his head; and these men have come to throw them into a panic, to hew down the horns of the nations that raise a horn (keren) against the land of Judah, to toss it.”
My Lord God shall sound the ram’s horn (tekiah shofar)
And advance in a stormy tempest.
(Recited in many congregations following the shofar blasts during Elul.)
Now is my head high
Over my enemies roundabout;
I sacrifice in His tent with shouts (teruah) of joy,
Singing and chanting a hymn to the Lord.
Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud;
Have mercy on me, answer me.”
Praise the Lord with the lyre;
with the ten-stringed harp sing to Him;
sing Him a new song;
Play sweetly with shouts (teruah) of joy
(See Meditation for 24th Day of Elul in Volume One.)
All you peoples, clap your hands, raise a joyous shout (tekiah) for God…
God ascends midst acclamation (teruah); the Lord to the blast of the horn (shofar).
I will extol God’s name with songs,
and exalt him with praise.
That will please the Lord more than oxen,
than bulls with
horns (keren) and hooves.
“To wanton men I say, ‘Do not be wanton!’
to the wicked, “Do not lift up your horns (keren)!’”
Do not lift your horns (keren) up high
in vainglorious bluster…
As for me, I will declare forever,
I will sing a hymn to the God of Jacob.
“All the horns (keren) of the wicked I will cut;
but the horns (keren) of the righteous shall be lifted up.”
(See discussion in Chapter 1-2 – Five Translation Challenges)
Sing joyously to God, our strength;
Raise a shout (teruah) for the God of Jacob.
Take up the song,
sound the timbrel,
the melodious lyre and harp.
Blow the horn (tekiah shofar) on the new moon,
on the full moon for our feast day.
For it is a law for Israel,
a ruling for the God of Jacob;
He imposed it as a decree upon Joseph
when he went forth from the land of Egypt;
I heard a language that I knew not.
In distress you called and I rescued you;
I answered you from that secret place of thunder.
89:16, 18, 21, 25
Happy is the people who know the joyful shout (teruah).
…our horn (keren) is exalted through Your favor.
I have found David, My servant;
anointed him with My sacred oil.
…his horn (keren) shall be exalted through My name.
You raise my horn (keren) high like that of a wild ox; I am soaked in freshening oil.
With trumpets (ĥatzotzrot) and the blast of the horn (kol shofar)
raise a shout before the Lord, the King.
He gives freely to the poor; his beneficence lasts forever; his horn (keren) is exalted in honor.
(The verse can also be translated, “Out of the narrow place I called upon God, who answered me in spaciousness." This can be interpreted as a reference to the shape of the shofar and the process of teshuvah, moving from the constricted space of the hardened heart to a place of redemption.)
In distress I called upon the Lord;
the Lord answered me and brought me relief.
…bind the festal offering to the horns (keren) of the altar with cords.
For the Lord has chosen Zion;
…There I will make a horn (keren) sprout for David…”
He has exalted the horn (keren) of His people…
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise Him in the sky, His stronghold.
Praise Him for His mighty acts,
praise Him for his exceeding greatness.
Praise him with blast of the horn (shofar);
praise Him with lute and pipe.
Praise him with resounding cymbals;
praise Him with loud-clashing cymbals.
Let all that breathes praise the Lord.
I sewed sackcloth over my skin;
I buried my glory in [Literal: “made my horn (keren) enter into”] the dust.
Do you give the horse his strength?…
Trembling with excitement, he swallows the land;
He does not turn aside at the blast of the trumpet (shofar).
As the trumpet (shofar) sounds, he says, “Aha!”
From afar he smells the battle,
The roaring and shouting (teruah) of the officers.
(See Meditation for 26th Day of Elul in Volume One.)
Nebuchadnezzar spoke… “Now if you are ready to fall down and worship the statue of gold that I have set up when you hear the sound of the horn (keren), pipe, zither, lyre, psaltery, and bagpipe, and all other types of instruments, well and good; but if you will not worship, you shall at once be thrown into a burning fiery furnace, and what god is there that can save you from my power?”
Daniel’s vision in an illuminated manuscript from 11th Century France.
I looked and saw a ram standing between me and the river; he had two horns (keren); the horns (keren) were high, with one higher than the other, and the higher sprouting last. I saw the ram butting westward, northward, and southward. No beast could withstand him, and there was none to deliver from his power. He did as he pleased and grew great. As I looked on, a he-goat came from the west, passing over the entire earth without touching the ground. The goat had a conspicuous horn (keren) on its forehead. He came up to the two-horned ram that I had seen standing between me and the river and charged at him with furious force. I saw him reach the ram and rage at him; he struck the ram and broke its two horns (keren). He threw him to the ground and trampled him, and there was none to deliver the ram from his power. Then the he-goat grew very great, but at the peak of his power his big horn (keren) was broken. In its place four conspicuous horns (keren) sprouted toward the four winds of heaven. From one of them emerged a small horn (keren), which extended itself greatly toward the south, toward the east, and toward the beautiful land. It grew as high as the host of heaven and it hurled some stars of the [heavenly] host to the ground and trampled them. It vaunted itself against the very chief of the host; on its account the regular offering was abandoned. An army was arrayed iniquitously against the regular offering; it hurled truth to the ground and prospered in what it did… “Understand, O man, that the vision refers to the time of the end… I am going to inform you of what will happen when wrath is at an end, for [it refers] to the time appointed for the end. The two-horned (keren) ram that you saw [signifies] the kings of Media and Persia; and the buck, the he-goat – the king of Greece; and the large horn (keren) on his forehead, that is the first king. One was broken and four came in its stead – that [means]: four kingdoms will arise out of a nation, but without its power…”
When the builders had laid the foundation of the Temple of the Lord, priest in their vestments with trumpets (ĥatzotzrot), and Levites son of Asaph with cymbals were stationed to give praise to the Lord, as King David of Israel had ordained.