We’re familiar with the sights, tastes, and sounds of Rosh Hashanah—the sweet sensation of honey on our tongues, the rhythmic swaying of the congregation in prayer, the cry of the shofar piercing the air. But have we ever stopped to think about the messages behind the deeds of the day?
While every commandment is essentially supra-rational—performed solely because it is the will and command of the Creator—our sages have found meaning and messages behind the commandments we fulfill. Let’s take a look at 11 reasons given for blowing the shofar on Rosh Hashanah.
1. The Return of the King
On Rosh Hashanah, the anniversary of creation, G‑d renews the creative energy that sustains our world. Once more, He is crowned as King of the universe. Just as trumpets are sounded at a coronation, the shofar announces G‑d’s continued kingship.
2. The Great Alarm Clock
On Rosh Hashanah, the first of the Ten Days of Repentance, we awake from our spiritual slumber. The shofar is like an alarm that calls on us to examine our deeds and correct our ways, as we return to G‑d.
3. The Reminder
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The shofar was blown at Mt. Sinai when the Torah was given. On Rosh Hashanah, we blow the shofar to remind us to rededicate ourselves to Torah study—and to remind G‑d of our original commitment and sincerity.
4. The Voice
Image Source: Zalman Kleiman
The shofar reminds us of the voice of the prophets, who like the blast of the shofar called upon us to correct our ways, follow G‑d’s commandments, and act properly with others.
5. The Tears
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The shofar’s cry reminds us of the cries and tears shed for the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, galvanizing us to bring Moshiach and hasten the rebuilding of the Temple.
6. The Sacrifice
The shofar, made of a ram’s horn, reminds us of the binding of Isaac and the ram G‑d provided as a sacrifice in his place. By blowing the shofar, we remember the faith of the Patriarchs and our own capacity for self-sacrifice.
7. The Awesome
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The shofar fills us with awe and humility as we contemplate the true infinitude of G‑d, how He fills all space and time.
8. The Introspection
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The shofar will be blown on the Day of Judgment when Moshiach comes. We thus blow the shofar on Rosh Hashanah to remind us to examine our deeds and contemplate how we can improve them.
9. The Celebration
Image Source: Baruch Nachson
The shofar blast will signal the return of the Jewish people when Moshiach comes. We blow the shofar on Rosh Hashanah to remind us of G‑d’s salvation in our own lives.
10. The Unity
Image Source: Michel Schwartz
The shofar blast when Moshiach comes will herald a time of universal understanding and recognition of G‑d’s unity. We blow the shofar on Rosh Hashanah to remind us of G‑d’s unity.
11. The Scream
Image Source: Lucas Vieira Moreira
The call of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah reminds us of the primordial scream, the eternal voiceless call of the soul expressing its desire to return to its Creator.
Sources: This list is largely compiled from the writings of Rabbi Saadiah Gaon. Reason number 11 is derived from a parable taught by the Baal Shem Tov.