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Why does the shofar have to be made out of an animal's horn?

by Mrs. Nechama D. Kumer

  

Library » Holidays » Rosh Hashanah » Shofar | Subscribe | What is RSS?


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Hearing the Shofar is THE commandment of Rosh Hashanah, whose purpose is to help us re-awaken spiritually. And yet, the famous shofar blast actually consists of a simple sound produced by blowing the horn of a Kosher animal.1

It might seem odd that an animal horn could be the cause for such a lofty result, especially since an animal is from a lower spiritual plane than we are. Furthermore, the horn really belongs to the realm of the inanimate, having been disconnected from the animal. According to Jewish mysticism, the inanimate is the lowest level of creation, and human is the highest. This being so, it would seem that the shofar would be ineffective and inappropriate in making our souls cry out to G-d.

The reality is that the shofar's inanimate quality is a percise symbolism for what the spiritual awakening of Rosh Hashanah is all about.

Esoterically speaking, within every person, the “inanimate” level is represented by our faculty of action, as opposed to our higher faculties of speech and thought. Action is the “lowest” human ability, a function we share with our animal counterparts, as opposed to intellect, speech, etc. This is the level at which we are primarily expected to connect to G-d on Rosh Hashanah.

The non-verbal cry of the shofar is meant to affect the soul at that level of action. It is from this level of action that we agree to serve G-d and observe His commandments even if we cannot explain (speech) or understand (thought) them. On Rosh Hashanah we re-commit ourselves to serve G-d because He is King of the Universe and our personal lives. We accept upon ourselves to act as G-d decrees despite our own moods, logic, opinions, and justifications. The shofar re-awakens within us this willingness to act simply because G-d is our King.

Another implication of the inanimate shofar is of G-d's wanting this corporeal world to be His home. G-d has myriads of spiritual worlds, but He wants this lowest and physical world to be the place in which His Presence is made known and revealed. Again, the lowest plane of inanimate represents G-d's goal of making the lowest world His chosen dwelling. And within this lowest physical world, G-d wants His revelation to reach into even the lowest level of physicality—the inanimate.

The shofar emphasizes the immense power that lies in our lowest faculty—action—with which we perform G-d's commandments. And through these actions, we reveal G-dliness even within the lowest plane of the lowest world.

And all this is alluded to in a simple animal horn.

Footnotes

  • 1. The horn must come from an animal that belongs to a kosher species. The animal does not have to be slaughtered or otherwise prepared for kosher consumption.

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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.
Kosher
Literally means "fit." Commonly used to describe foods which are permitted by Jewish dietary laws, but is also used to describe religious articles (such as a Torah scroll or Sukkah) which meet the requirements of Jewish law.
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.
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.