For every Mitzvah between man and G-d, which is prescribed either by the Torah or our Sages, we are obliged to recite a blessing of thanksgiving and praise to G-d for having sanctified us and commanded us to fulfill it. The Sages found Scriptural support for this obligation, but it would seem that human reason dictates reciting a blessing before receiving benefit in this world.
When a person eats fruit, drinks water, or smells a pleasant fragrance, he recites a blessing for the pleasures of transitory existence. How much more so is he obligated then, to recite a blessing over commandments that assure him life both in this world and in the World to Come!
The phrasing that the Sages set for these blessings is as follows:
Blessed are You, G-d our Lord, King of the world, Who has sanctified us with His commandments.
Note that the blessing begins in the second person [You] and then continues in the third person [His] - for when a person begins to recite a berachah he experiences G-d's benevolence directly.
Wherever he looks, he feels G-d near him and he therefore praises Him. But when he begins to offer his praise, he becomes afraid and wonders how he has the audacity to even stand before the King of all kings, the Holy One, blessed is He, let alone refer to Him in second person. Thus, the end of his blessing is a sort of apology - Who has commanded us with His mitzvot and ordered us, as if he were saying, though I am too small to speak, I cannot refrain from blessing Him for what He has done for me.
As regards the mitzvah of sounding the shofar, two blessings are recited - the first referring to the mitzvah itself and the second, Shehecheyanu - the berachah recited upon mitzvot that are incumbent at intervals rather than constantly.
The mitzvah of hearing the shofar sounded is incumbent upon every individual and is not dependent upon there being a congregation present - i.e., one must recite the blessings and hear the shofar whether or not one prays with a congregation.
However, it is commendable to enhance the mitzvah by hearing it sounded among a multitude, for in sounding the shofar, we proclaim G-d's sovereignty, accept His dominion, and recognize that He judges the entire world, as the verse (Proverbs 14:28) states: The King's glory is manifested in the presence of multitudes.
Therefore people gather in the synagogues and one person fulfills the mitzvah on behalf of all those assembled. The one who sounds the shofar also recites the blessings and all those who hear should have conscious intent to fulfill their obligation.
Both the person sounding the shofar and those who hear it sounded are considered to have fulfilled the mitzvah provided that the former had intent to fulfill the obligation for the latter and that the latter had intent that his obligation be fulfilled. Note that the latter should answer Amen to the blessing of the one sounding the shofar; however, even if he did not answer Amen, he has still fulfilled the obligation.
The principle is that one who recites Amen to the blessing recited by another and has conscious intent to be included by the other, is considered to have recited the blessing himself, and this applies to all blessings. In most cases, however, it is preferable that one recite the blessing himself and fulfill the mitzvah himself.
In the case of sounding the shofar, on the other hand, the Sages ruled that optimally one person should recite the blessings and perform the mitzvah on behalf of the entire congregation, for as we have seen, The King's glory is manifested in the presence of multitudes. Moreover, when the shofar is sounded in the presence of a congregation, the entire order of malchuyot, zichronot, and shofarot is sounded [this will be explained in the forthcoming pages], whereas when an individual sounds the shofar it is not.
One may not speak from the time that the blessings are recited until the end of the sounding of the shofar so as not to interrupt the performance of the mitzvah. However, one who did so need not recite the blessings again.
Women are exempted from the obligation of shofar, since it is in the category of these positive mitzvot which are dependent on a certain time; however, women have traditionally taken upon themselves the obligation to hear the shofar sounded.
In the case of a woman who did not come to the synagogue but heard the shofar sounded in her home by a man who already fulfilled the mitzvah, according to Ashkenazic custom she recites the blessing over the shofar, and according to Sephardic custom, she does not.
In the case of one who is ill and therefore has the shofar sounded for him in his home, if the person who is sounding the shofar has already heard it sounded earlier, it is preferable that the ill person recite the blessings instead.