Sounding the Shofar

by Rabbi Audrey Pollack, September 25, 2016

In just a week we will gather once again with anticipation of the sights and sounds of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. We look forward to reconnecting with friends and family, and enjoying sweet treats of honey cake and round challah, of apples and honey for a sweet new year. We feel the familiar liturgy and music lifting us up, as we sing and pray together at Solel. And our hearts will be awakened by the three different blasts of the shofar – the teki’ah–one long blast, shevarim–three broken sounds, and teru’ah -nine staccato notes.

Rabbi Alan Lew wrote:

“When the shofar sounds one hundred times (which it does in the traditional service), it blows open the gates of heaven. When the shofar sounds one hundred times, it forms a bridge between heaven and earth, and we enter heaven on that bridge. When the shofar sounds one hundred times, it cracks the shell of our awareness wide open, and suddenly we find ourselves in heaven. When the shofar sounds one hundred times, we hear the voice of heaven in it. We experience Revelation.”

Because the mitzvah of hearing the shofar is such an iconic and visceral part of the Yamim Noraim (High Holy Days), great care is taken in making a shofar and in learning how to produce the notes of the shofar calls: The ba’al tekiah, the shofar blower, practices in preparation for the High Holy Days. A shofar blower works on technique and breath support, in order to bring a full sound to the three different calls. He or she also must work at finding a pitch that is easy maintain without having to blow hard, the resonant frequency, or “sweet spot” in his or her shofar’s voice. During Elul, we hear the sound of the shofar at each service to give us a spiritual wake-up call, reminding us that it is time to make teshuvah, to find spiritual return. The practice that the shofar blower gains throughout Elul, however, is not just to perfect technique. Just as hearing the shofar awakens us, spiritually, the one who sounds the shofar also strives to align himself or herself with the sound of shofar and the process of teshuvah.

The most common shofar is made from a ram’s horn, a male sheep that is at least a year old. The very long curvy shofars that are known as Yemenite Shofars, are made from the horn of the Kudu, a type of antelope found in southern and eastern Africa. An animal’s horn is made from an outer layer of hard keratin, the same material that our bones and hair are made from. The inside part of the horn is removed and the hollow horn becomes the shofar. Usually at least some part of the Shofar needs to be straightened in order to drill the mouthpiece. This is done by carefully heating the Shofar and bending it. The very tip of the horn is sawed off and a hole is carefully drilled to form the mouthpiece. Then, the Shofar is polished. During the process of cleaning, straightening and polishing the shofar, it is inspected to make sure that it does not have a hole or crack.

The shofar is narrow at the beginning and wide at the end. As we listen to the sound of the shofar this year, may we be reminded that the work of teshuvah, of spiritual return, starts with just a small opening, that becomes bigger as we move closer to God on these Yamim Noraim. May our hearts and our ears and our eyes be opened wider to do God’s work in this world.

My family joins me in wishing you a Shanah Tovah U’metukah, A Happy and Sweet New Year!

Rabbi Audrey S. Pollack

Filed under: Rabbi's Message

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