The Shofar: Why Do We Blow it on Rosh HaShannah?

            August/September 2012    
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Rosh HaShanah and the Shofar

By Mendel Weiss

The Jewish New Years holiday, which is also known as the Day of Judgment, revolves around the blowing of the sacred "Shofar" horn. It is interesting to note that the Torah does not explicitly refer to this day as the "New Year", rather it is called "day of blasting" (Hebrew: "Yom Truah") which is a reference to the Shofar horn which is blown on this day. However the Torah does not reveal why we need to blow the Shofar, or what is has to do with the New Years holiday.

The Sages teach that the commandment to blow the Shofar is actually the secret which God revealed to His children, the Jewish people, to help them receive a positive Judgment on this day. The Shofar is an instrument which is used to announce the inauguration of a King much like the modern trumpet which is blown at coronations of kings. By telling us to blow the Shofar on this day, the Torah is essentially teaching that the best way to receive a positive judgment on this day is by making God our king.

On the surface, the very idea that God wants to be a king over his creation is difficult to comprehend. Certainly the Almighty God who is the very creator of the world can do whatever He wants, and if so, He is already much more than a mere king. If so, why would God want to be the king over His own creations.

The Gaon of Vilna, one of the greatest sages in the past 250 years, explained that the concept of a king expresses a very specific relationship which is not necessarily found even by an all powerful creator. A king is specifically a ruler who is there for the benefit of the people and wants to use his power to bring them to their greatest possible potential. If there is a "king" who is primarily interested in his own glory and power then in the eyes of the Torah he is not really a king at all, and it would be more precise to refer to him as a dictator or a ruler.

With this in mind, one can begin to understand that the real reason which God wants to be our king is not at all for Him; rather, He wants to give us the opportunity to enter into a relationship with Him that will lead us to greatest possible good. Thus, God is not only our creator, but He has given us the opportunity to accept Him as our king.

Imagine if you lived next door to the most successful stock broker in the world. After becoming very good friends, you ask if maybe he could give you some advice where to invest your money. Certainly if he gave you a piece of advice which he assured would be very sound, you would thank him tremendously for telling you how to get the biggest returns on your money. God is the very creator of the world, surely He knows the inside secrets of how man can get the most out of his life. When God has offered to be our king He is essentially saying, let me use my power and understanding to lead you on the path which will bring you to greatest possible good.

At the end of the Torah, God praises Moses in a very unexpected way. Moses, who brought the Torah to the Jewish nation was certainly a very wise and holy man. Yet, God does not praise him as "Moses, the great sage" or "Moses, the greatest prophet that ever lived", or "Moses, the Righteous", rather it says "Moses, My servant". Why does this praise supersede all other praises that have described Moses?

The Talmud teaches that "the servant of the king is like the king". That is to say, that the "servant of the king" is not a "slave" who has no significance. Rather, he is like an ambassador of the king who represents the king wherever he goes. According to Jewish law, if a servant of the king walks into a room and one does not honor him in a way which is fitting for royalty, the person could be killed for rebelling against the king himself. It is thus understood that God is telling us that Moses achieved the most exalted state that any creation could ever achieve. He was the perfect example of a servant of God.

When God took the Jewish nation out of Egypt, He proclaimed that they would be a nation of priests and a light to the nations. With these words, God had stated that He would raise them up to the most exalted state of being His personal ambassadors to the world.

The Sages taught that the New Year's Day, Rosh HaShanah, is the day that the first man was created, and that was the day that God stood as the king over his creation for the first time. With this in mind, it is understood that the Torah has instructed us to blow the sacred shofar horn specifically on this day because it is the day which has been set aside for the inauguration of God from the beginning of the creation. This is the way which the Torah has instructed us to embrace the opportunity to welcome God as our king on this unique day, and this is the secret which God has revealed to His children to insure them that they we will receive a positive Judgment for the new year.


from the August/September 2012 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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