It is perhaps the most moving moment of Rosh Hashanah. First a hush, then the sounding of the shofar. The shofar is one of Judaism's most famous symbols and is responsible for some of the religion's most profound writings. Today, some insights into the shofar from the Jewish Superhighway.
Rav Saadiah Gaon gives 10 reasons for blowing the shofar on Rosh Hashanah at www.ohr.org.il/ special/roshhash/shofar.htm. Among them: "Rosh Hashanah is the day that commemorates the creation of the world and it is described as the 'coronation' of HaShem. As it is customary to sound a trumpet at a king's coronation so we blow the shofar on Rosh Hashanah. By blowing the shofar we recognize the 'purpose' of the Creation."
Rabbi Harold Kushner, who has written a number of books, says listening to the shofar can teach us something about how to treat each other. With tekiah, the shofar sounds its wake-up call, reminding us to live, to stop taking for granted the miraculous fact that people like us, tolerate us, care about us. The second call of the shofar is shevarim, the broken note, the plaintive articulation of all the fractures in our lives, the bereavements and the disappointments; the people taken from us whom we miss at this season and throughout the year. The third of the shofar's notes, teruah, is understood to be the proclamation of God's sovereignty, hailing Him as ruler of the world, like the herald's trumpets that announce the king. These interpretations are found at www.uscj.org/ NEWENG/NATICK/kushnerrh.htm.
For more thoughts on the symbolism of the shofar, see Rabbi Harold Schulweis' comments at www.vbs.org/rabbi/hshulw/shofar.htm, and Aish HaTorah, http://aish.com/holidays/ the_high_holidays/last/shofar.htm.
Virtual Jerusalem's wonderful mini-site devoted to the shofar is found at www.vjholidays.com/rosh/shofar.htm. There's a survey of other times the shofar is sounded, such as introducing the Jubilee year. During the Middle Ages, Jews blew the shofar to mark the beginning of the Sabbath or to announce deaths, fasts and even excommunications. And in more recent times, the shofar has been used in Israel at the inauguration of each new president.
For the Jew, the need to hear the shofar can be extremely powerful. Rabbi Eli Hecht tells the heartbreaking story of how a rabbi risked his life to sound a shofar in Auschwitz for hundreds of doomed children, www.shamash.org/listarchives/jewish-music/940831 (see topic 19). And there's the story of how some Conversos, Spanish Jews who officially converted to Christianity, were able to listen to the shofar on Rosh Hashanah without provoking the ire of the Inquisition at www.sephardiconnect.com/Rosh.htm.
I was impressed by a page created by David Bar-Tzur, www.rit.edu/~dabdis/jush/rh/shofar.html, who has tried to represent the sounding of the shofar for people who are deaf. "The way I represent the sounding of the shofar is to first fingerspell the type of shofar blast that is called out [and] then sign SHOFAR, that is the two S hands are held at the mouth. For the tekiah, I bow my head at the beginning of the blast and raise it again as the blast ends."
Traditionally, a shofar is made from a ram's horn. But horns of some other animals can also be made into shofars. Take a look at the horns of an antelope, ibex, cow and oryx and find out which ones are kosher at www.vjholidays.com/ rosh/shofkosh.htm. Over at the Torah-tots site, you can find a shofar-based puzzle and drawings to print out and color. It's at www.torahtots.com/holidays/rosh/roshclr.htm.
It's not quite like hearing it live, but there are many sites where you can listen to experts sound the shofar on the Net such as at 613.org at www.613.org/ roshyomkippursuccot.html.
If you've ever struggled in vain to get a melodious tone out of a shofar, you may need an expert's advice.
If you're in the Boston area, a one-day course is offered at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology called "How to Blow a Shofar," http://web.mit.edu/ iap/www/ search/IAP-904.html. Sorry, you get no credit for taking this course.
Well, no earthly credit, that is.
May you and your family have a Shana Tova U'metuka, a good and sweet New Year.
The writer is a Toronto-based television producer who writes, lectures and teaches about the Jewish Internet. His columns alternate with those of James D. Besser. Mietkiewicz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org