Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The meaning of the shofar

Probably the best known, and most beloved, symbol of the High Holy Days is the shofar. Hearing the sound of the ram's horn is one of the high points of the year for many of us. But, as is often the case, many of us aren't aware of why we blow the shofar, and what it's supposed to mean. And, as is also often the case, there isn't one reason, but a whole host of explanations given by our tradition.
There are those who say that the shofar reminds us of the Akedah, the binding of Isaac. At God's command, Abraham almost sacrificed his beloved son, and so proved his devotion to God (as moderns, this story makes us very uncomfortable, and it should. But, to our ancestors, it was a beautiful, although possibly hyperbolic, example of faith). At the last second, Abraham is told to substitute a ram for his son, and so the sounding of a ram's horn reminds us of that animal. Although we will never be called to make such a great sacrifice (and, we would never kill anyone, let alone our own children, in the name of God) it is important to ask ourselves what we would give up in the name of some One higher than ourselves.

The shofar was also sounded, we are told, when we received the Torah at Mount Sinai. So, hearing that sound again brings us back to that moment, and calls on us to reaffirm our commitment to our tradition.

Finally (for now) tradition has it that the “Great Shofar” will be sounded when God is ready to bring the Messiah, and perfect all of creation. And so, the sound becomes one of hope—hope for a better day, an end to strife, and a world in which we can all live in peace.

There are so many memories and meanings which are associated with the sound. When we hear the shofar this year, may we dedicate ourselves to sacrifice in the name of others, may we reaffirm our commitment to Judaism, and our tradition, and may we all pray, together, for a better day.

L'Shana Tova.

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