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The Sound of Imperfection

The Sound of Imperfection

Rosh Hashanah


Rosh Hashanah is referred to in the Torah as "the day of [shofar] blowing." The sounding of the shofar, the ram's horn, plays center stage.

What can we learn from the shofar?

On Rosh Hashanah we use the shofar to produce a sequence of three sounds. This sequence is repeated many times during the course of the days' prayers:

One, long and uninterrupted, is the tekiah. The next one – the teruah – is made up of short spurts of interrupted sounds,1 while the third, like the first, is continuous—a tekiah again.

The teruah tells the painful story of struggleThe first and third sounds represent perfection, as they continue unhindered, and even grow in power with time. It is the second one that sings a different song.

The song of imperfection, of obstacles, challenges, and inconsistencies.

Of short spurts of energy because that's all that can be mustered.

It tells the painful story of struggle, of many attempts, of an equal amount of failures, of shortness of breath.

It speaks of limited resources, frustration, losses, setbacks, separations, as well as sudden ends; all of which wrench at the heart like the desperate cry of a child.

But it also tells the story of unbeatable determination, of triumphs (small but many), of the strength to move forward, and of beginnings, all of which inspire hope and faith in the hearts of those who listen carefully, unable to help being moved.

According to the mystics, the first sound, pure and unadulterated, reflects the perfect beginning of time in Eden, before there was sin.

The second sound, the teruah, is the mournful tune of exile, sung by us—the Jews of Diaspora. It cries of interrupted and inconsistent service of G‑d. Of love, awe, and faith that stop short as often as they suddenly ring forth.

It is the mouthpiece for those who know too much pain, leaving them with no energy – or worse, no willpower – to blow on. They are hindered by the trials of life, from without and within.

They have lost their breath.

Amid the darkness and hardship, let the teruah be heard!The perfect world reflected in the sound of the tekiah isn't lost forever – Moshiach is on his way. The third sound, which gains in momentum and concludes with a powerful finale, is even more perfect than the first. It prophesies of Messianic times and the return to Paradise.

"And on that day [of Redemption] a tekiah will be sounded from a great shofar"—Isaiah 27:13.

The teruah will expire, never to return.

Yet the psalmist says, "Ashrei ha'am yod'ei teruah," which translates as "Fortunate is the nation who knows how to blow a teruah."

Perhaps a deeper reading is: "Fortunate is the nation that knows – i.e., fully appreciates – the unique sound of teruah!"

Amid the darkness and hardship, let the teruah be heard!

Let us maximize this once-in-a-world-time opportunity.

Wishing us all a year of tekiah, with the arrival of Moshiach.


The biblical term teruah has two expressions: the shevarim, three medium-length blasts, and what is commonly referred to as the teruah, a minimum of nine short blasts.

Rabbi Mendel Kalmenson is the rabbi of Beit Baruch and executive director of Chabad of Belgravia, London, where he lives with his wife, Chana, and children.
Mendel was an editor at the Judaism Website—, and is also the author of the popular books Seeds of Wisdom and A Time to Heal.
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Discussion (1)
August 27, 2013
But there are three sounds?
But there are three sounds?