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How and Why We Blow the Shofar During the Month of Elul

How and Why We Blow the Shofar During the Month of Elul

And how to confuse Satan

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The month of Elul is a month of preparation for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. That’s why Jews blow the shofar (almost) every day of the month.

When to blow?

The optimum shofar-blowing time is right after morning services, when everyone is still together. Missed it? You might still want to catch a shofar-blowing some time before sundown.1 We blow the shofar every day other than Shabbat, starting from Elul 1 and ending on Elul 28. We do not blow on Elul 29, the day before Rosh Hashanah.2

What to blow?

Using a kosher ram’s horn, we blow a condensed version of the full sequence blown on Rosh Hashanah:

One long blast, three midsized blasts (with a little tiny blast), nine short blasts, one long blast.
One long blast, three midsized blasts (with a little tiny blast), one long blast.
One long blast, nine short blasts, one long blast.

That’s how it’s done in Chabad; there are others who just blow the first segment. On Rosh Hashanah, the sequence is much longer, with many more requirements and specifications.

Why blow?

For lots of reasons. Here are just a few:

a. After Israel sinned with the golden calf, Moses spent 40 days pleading for forgiveness. Then he ascended Mount Sinai once again for another 40 days—after which he descended with the second tablets. This ascent, which began on the first of Elul and lasted until Yom Kippur, was accompanied by shofar blasts. To commemorate this, we blow the shofar during the month of Elul.3

b. Elul is the month during which we search our souls in anticipation of the High Holidays. The soul-stirring shofar blasts inspire us to come closer to G‑d, as we read, “Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid?”4

c. Blowing the shofar—which is actually a Rosh Hashanah activity—for a month in advance confuses the prosecuting angel, who now has no idea what day is the real Rosh Hashanah.5

Huh? How is blowing the shofar for a month going to confuse the prosecuting angel? Nobody ever delivered a Jewish calendar to his door? Wouldn’t the crafty angel catch on after a few hundred years?

The Rebbe6 has a wonderful insight into this:

First of all, this isn’t the only time we’re out to befuddle the prosecution. On Rosh Hashanah we blow the shofar more than necessary, the Talmud tells us, “to confuse the prosecuting angel.” On that Talmudic passage, Rashi7 explains: When the prosecutor sees how we cherish G‑d’s commandments—going far beyond the strict requirements—he simply has nothing to say.

Something similar happens when we blow the shofar for an entire month before Rosh Hashanah. By doing so, inevitably we’ll feel remorse over past misdeeds and set ourselves upon a fresh new path. If so, the case is already sealed—and we won. G‑d has already inscribed us in the book of life for the coming year—even before Rosh Hashanah. This leaves the prosecutor confused. What’s left for him to do when the trial date finally arrives?

That’s the meaning of “not knowing what day is Rosh Hashanah”—he can no longer tell when the judgment occurs. Because we proactively took care of the whole thing on our own accord—sort of a backroom deal between us and G‑d.

This is also why we do not blow on the day before Rosh Hashanah: By that point we are so confident that G‑d has accepted our sincere repentance during the first 29 days that we do not even need to blow on the last day of the month.

And the prosecution is out of a job.

Footnotes
1.
See Nit’ei Gavriel, Rosh Hashanah 4:9, footnote 14.
2.
Not blowing on this day serves to separate between the Elul blasts, which are merely a custom, and the Rosh Hashanah blasts, which are a mitzvah. In addition, it serves to confuse the Satan into thinking that we finished blowing and he missed his Rosh Hashanah court date to prosecute against Israel. See below for a deeper explanation of what “confusing Satan” actually means.
3.
The earliest source for this is Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer (46), where the custom is mentioned only regarding the first of Elul.
5.
All three of these reasons are cited in Tur (by Rabbi Jacob ben Asher), Orach Chaim 581.
6.
Likkutei Sichot, vol. 24, pp. 222ff.
7.
Rosh Hashanah 16b, s.v. kedei le-arbev.
Rabbi Menachem Posner serves as staff editor for Chabad.org.
Illustration: Detail from a painting by Chassidic artist Zalman Kleinman.
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Anonymous chester September 12, 2017

can a person under bar mitzvah blow shofar for others? can one hear shofar before washing and reciting brochos? Reply

Yehuda Shurpin for Chabad.org September 15, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

One who is under Bar Mitzvah cannot blow the shofar for those over Bar Mitzvah who have an obligation to hear the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah.
Although, yes, ideally, one would hear the Shofar after they washed their hands and recited the morning blessings (and even more ideal to hear in the synagogue etc.) if, for whatever reason, one didn't do so, they will still have fulfilled the Mitzvah of blowing the shofar. Reply

Chabad.org Staff via chabadone.org August 31, 2015

To Anonymous No, the blessing is not recited during the month of Elul. Reply

Anonymous August 30, 2015

Blessing? Do we recite the blessing before blowing shofar in Elul? Reply

Isaac Zwick ny, ny via chabadw60s.com September 17, 2014

The Shofar It is likely that the Shofar began, pre-Abraham, as a method of community management, key communication for those working in the fields and hills. Later, it likely was used for religious management - possibly for sacrifices and gatherings. The ascent of Moses from Elul to Yom Kippur is a great interpretation for blowing the shofar because the shofar does bind us to our past as we were many returning to the one. Spiritually, the shofar and the 4 codes (1, 3, 9, 1-Long) help prepare our return to one and to the One. It brings more material meaning that this is more than words. Whether you blow or listen, the shofar is the language and music of the angels. Sometimes life only needs to be inscribed with a single note. G-d knows the melody. Reply

Anonymous September 11, 2014

While blowing your Shofar, do it not only for yourselves but for all those who Satan has on the spot. Rabbi J. Sacks in his letter "Ki Tavo A Nation of Storytellers" aiming to help us focus our minds on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur drops a phrase that has been registered in my memory. "Judaism is less about truth as a system than about truth as a story. And we are part of that story. That is what it is to be a Jew." My interpretation is that it's not important to be in possession of the truth but to be part of the story, then by living inside the story, its fullness will be revealed unto us. This story about how to confuse Satan has elicited in my mind an unexpected pleasure because I always have had for certain that the prosecuting angel never accepts G-d's forgiveness granted to us. However, by blowing a Shofar, by being part of this wonderful story, we'll find in Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur a full atonement. Reply

Juda September 9, 2014

RE:do we still have to fast on and follow Yom Kippur? Yes, you would still need to fast. After all, fasting and celebrating Yom Kippur is a biblical commandment, so regardless of whether one sinned or was forgiven already, one would need to celebrate it. Furthermore, while you hope you were already forgiven, you don't know that... Reply

Menachem Posner Chicago September 9, 2014

To Steve Of course we must observe Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kuppur to the fullest. Unless someone can get a memo from on high telling them that their early petition has been accepted and that no further action is necessary, we gladly take advantage of the opportunity for repentance and closeness that these days--and their mitzvahs--bring us. Reply

Steve E Abraham New York September 9, 2014

if we blow shofar all of elul, do we still have to fast on and follow Yom Kippur? you wrote ". If so, the case is already sealed—and we won. G‑d has already inscribed us in the book of life for the coming year—even before Rosh Hashanah.". Does this mean we do not have to go to shul on Yom Kippur and we can skip the prayers asking to be written in the book of life? If our fate is sealed before Rosh Hashanah, do we still have to "fast" on Yom Kippur? We already know we are written in the book of life for next year if we blow the shofur the entire month of elul. Reply

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