Thursday, September 6, 2018

Teshuvah - The Shofar

The first day, Rosh Chodesh, of the Hebrew month of Elul - and by extension the entire month of Elul  - is the time for spiritual stock-taking. There is a set of prayers - called selichot - recited during the month which is symbolic of a Jew washing his vessel - his soul - with the tears that he sheds over the state of his spiritual life. The avodah - the prayers of Rosh Hashanah that are recited - repair the vessel through the Jew's acceptance of the yoke of heaven - kabbalah ol, and repentance - teshuvah.

The sounding of the shofar is the call for the time of teshuvah. Rabbi Shalom DovBer Schneerson, the fifth Chabad Rebbe, in a treatise (in Hebrew called a ma'amar), delivered on the second night of Rosh Hashanah 5659 (1898), talked about the various calls of the shofar: they mimic a human cry to awaken a person to cry out to G-d for repentance. They are: tekiah - a long, resounding blast; shevarim - three shorter blasts; and teruah - nine very short sounds.  They correspond to the types of cries of the penitent. The Rebbe describes tekiah as 'a simple sound, an inner cry from the depths of the heart, which is produced by [deep].... distress.' Teruah is described, by Torah sage Rashi, as 'one who groans from his heart in the manner of the sick who prolong their groan'; and alternately as 'one who weeps and laments with short, close sounds.' To accommodate both sounds, the shevarim-teruah is sounded consisting of three medium-length sounds (groaning) followed by nine shorter sounds (weeping). The most recent Rebbe - Menachem Mendel Schneerson - describes shevarim-teruah as 'groaning and weeping sounds, when the distress reaches even deeper into a person's soul, giving him no respite at all, to the point where he is unable to catch his breath even to utter a simple cry; he can only groan and weep, in short broken sobs.'

The shofar is sounded for the entire month of Elul in preparation for the holy day of Rosh Hashanah, which celebrates the recognition of the day that Adam was created. In the words of the Chabad Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, 'The sound of the shofar is an inner sound that emanates from the innermost dimension of the heart.' It is so powerful that it cannot find expression in words or thought. Because it's significance comes from so deep inside the essence of man, 'the G-dly influence evoked by the shofar is from the inner dimension and essence of the Or Ein Sof (the most elevated G-dly light).'

The sounding of the shofar, which is a hollowed out ram's horn, is connected to Divine pleasure. Through the physical action of blowing the horn and creating the sounds G-d's essential will and pleasure are expressed.

In a stiebel (a small synagogue) on East Broadway in Manhattan:

Drilling a hole to make a shofar from a ram's horn:

At the Chai Center Chabad house in Short Hills, New Jersey:

After making a shofar, it's fun to actually blow into it. Very difficult to make a reasonable sound:

Girls do it too:

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