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Shofar: A Blast in Three Dimensions

by Rabbi Yanki Tauber

  

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Shofar 

It is a positive Mitzvah of the Torah to hear the blast of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, as it is stated:1 “it shall be a day of blowing the horn to you.”

- Mishneh Torah, Laws of Shofar, 1:1

Although the sounding of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah is a Torah decree, there is an allusion in it as well. It says: “Be roused, sleepers, from your sleep, and slumberers, wake from your slumber; search your deeds and return in Teshuvah...”

- ibid., Laws of Teshuvah, 3:4

Say before Me [verses of] kingship, so that you shall crown Me king over you... How? With the shofar.

- Talmud, Rosh Hashanah 16a

Mitzvah

A mitzvah is a commandment, a divine decree. The word mitzvah also means “connection,” for it connects its earthly observer with its supernal Commander.

Man is finite and mortal; G-d is infinite, eternal, and utterly beyond grasp or definition. Thus, nothing humanly generated can possibly relate to G-d. The possibility for connection can only come from the other direction: when G-d, who transcends all definition (including the categorizations “finite” and “infinite”) chooses to relate to man and to enable man to relate to Him. In commanding us the mitzvahs, G-d made that certain physical deeds should constitute the fulfillment of His will. By doing these deeds, our bodies and souls become implements of the supernal will, and the human touches the divine.

What is significant is not what G-d commanded us to do, but the fact that G-d commanded us to do it.
Seen in this light, the particulars of a mitzvah are practically irrelevant. What is significant is not what G-d commanded us to do, but the fact that G-d commanded us to do it. In the words of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, “had G-d commanded us to chop wood”—i.e. commanded us an act that is devoid of all social, experiential or spiritual utility—this would be no less a mitzvah than the most “moral” precept or the most moving observance commanded us in the Torah.2

Return

The mitzvahs create a relationship between man and G-d—man as realizer of the divine will. But G-d also extended to us a vehicle for even deeper connection: Teshuvah.

Teshuvah is commonly translated as “repentance,” but the word actually means “return.” Teshuvah is the divinely prescribed remedy for one who has violated a mitzvah, and includes three basic stages: cessation of the transgression, acknowledgment and confession, and the resolve never to transgress again. Through proper teshuvah, the transgression is forgiven and the blemish it inflicted upon the transgressor’s soul wiped away. Teshuvah even has the power to “transform sins into virtues”3 and raise the baal teshuvah (penitent or “returnee”) to a level at which “even the perfectly righteous cannot stand.”4

The fact that teshuvah can rectify a violation of a mitzvah means that it reaches beyond the parameters of the bond between man and G-d created by the mitzvahs. From the perspective of the mitzvahs, man connects to G-d by fulfilling G-d’s will. A violation of the divine will has the opposite effect: not only is the person no longer connected, but he has even further distanced himself from G-d. In this context, a transgression will always remain a negative event. It might be atoned for through punishment or even forgiven by G-d in His great mercy; the connection might be reestablished through a renewed commitment to the fulfillment of the mitzvahs. But the fact remains that, in the past, there has been a disruption of the relationship. This fact cannot be undone, and it certainly cannot be considered a virtue.

Footnotes

  • 1. Numbers 29:1
  • 2. Likkutei Torah, Shelach 40a. There is another dimension to the mitzvah—the refining effect it has upon the human being and the substance of creation—where the particular features of a mitzvah are of primary importance. But the essence of a mitzvah is the fact that it is a divine command, a fact that overshadows, to the point of rendering insignificant, its social, educational and spiritual functions (see “On the Essence of the Mitzvah,” Beyond The Letter Of the Law (VHH 1995), pp. 106-112).
  • 3. Talmud, Yoma 86b
  • 4. Talmud Berachot 34b

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Holidays
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Mitzvah
(pl. Mitzvot). A commandment from G-d. Mitzvah also means a connection, for a Jew connects with G–d through fulfilling His commandments.
Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Teshuvah
Repentance. Or, more literally, "return" to G-d. Teshuvah involves regretting the past and making a firm resolution not to repeat the offense.
Talmud
Usually referring to the Babylonian edition, it is a compilation of Rabbinic law, commentary and analysis compiled over a 600 year period (200 BCE - 427 CE). Talmudic verse serves as the bedrock of all classic and modern-day Torah-Jewish literature.
Halachah
Jewish Law. All halachah which is applicable today is found in the Code of Jewish Law.
Halachic
Pertaining to Jewish Law.
Rosh Hashanah
The Jewish New Year. An early autumn two day holiday marking the creation of Adam and Eve. On this day we hear the blasts of the ram's horn and accept G-d's sovereignty upon ourselves and the world. On Rosh Hashanah we pray that G-d should grant us all a sweet New Year.
Tishrei
The seventh month of the Jewish calendar. This month, which arrives in early autumn, has more holidays than any other month: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Simchat Torah.
Maimonides
Moses son of Maimon, born in Spain in 1135, died in Egypt in 1204. Noted philosopher and authority on Jewish law. Also was an accomplished physician and was the personal doctor for members of the Egyptian royalty. Interred in Tiberius, Israel.
Zohar
The most basic work of Jewish mysticism. Authored by Rabbi Shimeon bar Yochai in the 2nd century.
Shofar
The horn of a Kosher animal. The Shofar is sounded on the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, and is intended to awaken us to repentance. Also blown to signify the conclusion of the Yom Kippur holiday.
Kabbalah
Jewish mysticism. The word Kaballah means "reception," for we cannot physically perceive the Divine, we merely study the mystical truths which were transmitted to us by G-d Himself through His righteous servants.
Rebbe
A Chassidic master. A saintly person who inspires followers to increase their spiritual awareness.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.