shofar rosh hashanah

Contributed by Rabbi Brad Horwitz
Director, Jewish Engagement & Adult Programs

One of the traditions associated with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is the blowing of the shofar, a ram’s horn. Some say that this ritual is to proclaim God as King. Some say it is to announce the Jewish New Year. Others explain that the shofar is meant to be a sounding of an alarm to kick off the season of repentance. Along those lines, I discovered this parable and explanation by the Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Jewish Mystical Tradition known as chasidism from 18th century Eastern Europe:

A King had an only son, the apple of his eye. The King wanted his son to master different fields of knowledge and to experience various cultures, so he sent him to a far-off country, supplied with a generous quantity of silver and gold. Far away from home, the son squandered all the money until he was left completely destitute. In his distress he resolved to return to his father’s house and after much difficulty, he managed to arrive at the gate of the courtyard to his father’s palace. In the passage of time, he had actually forgotten the language of his native country, and he was unable to identify himself to the guards. In utter despair, he began to cry out in a loud voice, and the King, who recognized the voice of his son, went out to him and brought him into the house, kissing him and hugging him.

The meaning of the parable: The King is God. The prince is the Jewish people, who are called “Children of God” (Deuteronomy 14:1). The King sends a soul down to this world in order to fulfill the Torah and mitzvot (commandments). However, the soul becomes very distant and forgets everything to which it was accustomed to above, and in the long exile it forgets even its own “language.” So it utters a simple cry to its Father in Heaven. This is the blowing of the shofar, a cry from deep within, expressing regret for the past and determination for the future. This cry elicits G-d’s mercies, and He demonstrates His abiding affection for His child and forgives him.

In other words, the shofar is a call for help, a call to God to forgive us from going astray.  The Jewish New Year is a time of celebration and a time to usher in another year.  Yet it also a time when we commit ourselves to being better human beings.  We learn from our past mistakes, ask for forgiveness and dedicate ourselves to follow in God’s ways in the upcoming year- to be kind to others, to alleviate suffering of those in need, to act honorably and ethically and ultimately to help bring peace to others.  The shofar serves as a reminder, a call to God, but it also is a call to one another to perform these acts. So may it be for us, our friends, our families, our community and ultimately our world.

Shanah Tovah! Best wishes for a happy, healthy, and peaceful new year!