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Why Do We Blow One Hundred Shofar Blasts on Rosh Hashanah?

Why Do We Blow One Hundred Shofar Blasts on Rosh Hashanah?

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Question:

Why do we blow the shofar so many times on Rosh Hashanah?

Answer:

There are different customs as to how many times the shofar is blown on Rosh Hashanah. In most communities, the shofar is blown one hundred times. Here’s how we arrive at that number:

The Torah tells us to blow a teruah from a shofar on Rosh Hashanah. A teruah is a broken-sounding blast which resembles a cry. This commandment is repeated in three different places.1 The Talmud understands this repetition to imply that we must hear three teruahs. The Talmud also derives from other scriptural verses that each teruah must have a simple, unbroken blast (called a tekiah) before and after it.2 Thus the Torah requires us to blow nine blasts, as follows:

tekiah, teruah, tekiah
tekiah, teruah, tekiah
tekiah, teruah, tekiah.

The problem is that the word teruah can have multiple meanings. The Talmud tells us that there are three possibilities: It can mean several extremely short blasts, similar to how one would ululate in a tragic situation. Or it can mean three somewhat longer blasts, similar to how one would moan when he has great worries. A third possibility is that the teruah the Torah mentions is both of these cries together: a moan, followed by an ululation.3 Today the moan-like sound is known as shevarim, and the ululation as teruah. To make sure that we cover all bases, we blow all the different possible teruahs with a tekiah before and after each one, in the following order:

tekiah, moan-ululation, tekiah
tekiah, moan-ululation, tekiah
tekiah, moan-ululation, tekiah

tekiah, moan, tekiah
tekiah, moan, tekiah
tekiah, moan, tekiah

tekiah, ululation, tekiah
tekiah, ululation, tekiah
tekiah, ululation, tekiah

By blowing these thirty blasts, we fulfill our scriptural obligation. To understand the reason for the next sixty blasts, we need a little background information about the Musaf Amidah of Rosh Hashanah. The Talmud tells us that G‑d says to us on Rosh Hashanah, “Say before Me [verses whose themes are] sovereignty, remembrances and shofar. Sovereignty, so that you should crown Me king over you; remembrances, so that I should remember you for good; and with what? With a shofar.”4

Following this rubric, the Musaf Amidah includes one blessing about G‑d’s sovereignty, another about how He remembers His creation, and a third about the power of the call of the shofar. After each of these three blessings, we blow ten blasts on the shofar:

tekiah, moan-ululation, tekiah
tekiah, moan, tekiah
tekiah, ululation, tekiah

Thus the shofar is blown thirty times during the Musaf Amidah.

When the chazzan repeats the Amidah, he repeats these three blessings—about sovereignty, remembrance and shofar—and the shofar is blown after each one, in the same order.

By now we’ve accounted for ninety blasts: thirty before the Amidah, thirty during the silent Amidah, and thirty during the chazzan’s repetition of the Amidah. It is customary to blow yet another ten blasts after the repetition of the Amidah, for a total of one hundred blasts.5

To understand the mystical significance of the one hundred blasts, check out One Hundred Sounds.

With wishes for an uplifting Rosh Hashanah and a sweet new year,

Rabbi Eliezer Posner

FOOTNOTES
1.

“You shall proclaim [with a] teruah of a shofar.” (Leviticus 25:9)
“It shall be a Sabbath for you, a remembrance [through] the teruah.” (Levitcus 23:24)
“A day of teruah it shall be for you.” (Numbers 29:1)

2.

Talmud, Rosh Hashanah 33b and 34a, paraphrased in Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 590:1.

3.

Talmud and Shulchan Aruch ibid.

4.

Talmud, Rosh Hashanah 34b.

5.

Other customs include blowing seventy-one blasts, or 101 blasts. The Chabad custom is to blow the one hundred blasts described above, and an additional thirty blasts after the end of the prayers, for a total of one hundred-thirty blasts.

Eliezer Posner is a former member of the Chabad.org Ask the Rabbi team.
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Discussion (2)
October 5, 2011
To Anon in Great Neck
I wondered the same thing when I read that explanation in my Artscroll Mahzor. However, I did some more research and found that that is just one of the reasons. For example, the Shalah explains that the 4 groups of blasts correspond to the four supernal worlds. He then goes on to quote in great detail the kabbalistic meaning of each blast.
Michoel HK
October 1, 2011
SHOFAR
I have been taught that the 100 "kolot"/ blasts of the shofar are because of each cry Sisrah's mother cried (99+1) in sefer Shoftim. Although, what does his mother's cries have to do with the relations to a shofar's blowing?
Anonymous
Great Neck
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