The primary event on Rosh Hashanah day is the sounding of the shofar. There are manyhalachot in the Shulchan Aruch concerning the shofar itself, the sounds produced, and the individual who hears it. One of the halachot is that it is obligatory to hear the actual sound of the shofar and not an echo. If one hears the echo of the sounds of the shofar, he has not fulfilled the mitzvah. One may wonder why the Sages were so insisting that the actual sound be heard. After all, the echo sounds exactly the same as the original sounds and, it is in fact a reflection of the original.

The Midrash Rabbah (Shemot 28:6) states that at Mount Sinai when Hashem gave the Torah to the Jewish people His voice was unique in that it had no echo. Usually, the stronger the voice, the stronger the echo. Isn’t the lack of echo from Hashem’s voice a sign of weakness?

The distance the voice can travel depends on the strength of the person. When the voice reaches a wall, it rebounds, causing an echo. The Midrash is implying that the voice of Hashem was so powerful that it penetrated and permeated every person and every physical part of the universe, so that there was no echo.

The Rambam (Teshuvah 3:4) writes, “Although the blowing of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah is an unexplained Scriptural command, it contains an allusion: ‘Sleepers, awaken from your sleep and you that slumber awake from your slumber, and ponder your deeds, remember your Creator, and go back to Him in penitence. You who miss the truth in your pursuit of vanities, and waste your years in seeking after vain things that can neither profit nor deliver, look after your own souls, and improve your ways and your deeds. Let everyone of you abandon his evil ways and thoughts, and return to G‑d that He may have mercy on you’ ”

The halachah of hearing an echo is imparting a very important message. The sound of the shofar is supposed to permeate us and move us to change and reach for higher goals and aspirations. “Hearing an echo” means that the sound of the shofar instead of permeating the person, has hit him on the outside and has bounced off not making any inroads into the person himself. Such a person, though he has come to Shul, and though he has heard shofar sounds, has not really achieved the true intention of the mitzvah of hearing shofar.

A story is told that a native villager, born and reared in an obscure rural environment, came to a big city for the first time and obtained lodging at an inn. Awakened in the middle of the night by the loud beating of drums, he inquired drowsily, “What is this all about?” Informed that a fire had broken out and that the drum beating was the city’s fire alarm, he turned over and went back to sleep.

On his return home he reported to the village authorities, “They have a wonderful system in the big city; when a fire breaks out, the people beat their drums and before long the fire burns out.” All excited, they ordered a supply of drums and distributed them to the population.

When, some time later, a fire broke out, there was a deafening explosion of beating of drums, and while the people waited expectantly for the flames to subside, a number of their homes burned to the ground.

A sophisticated visitor passing through that village, when told the reason for the earsplitting din, derided the simple natives: “Fools! Do you think a fire can be put out by beating drums? They only sound an alarm for the people to wake up and take measures to extinguish the fire.”

The moral of the story is that just blowing shofar has no real significance. We accomplish something with the shofar only if it penetrates our very being and we are permeated with the inspiration to wake up, resort to true soul searching, and resolve to lead a spiritually more meaningful life.