The LORD said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: ‘On the first day of the seventh month you are to have a day of sabbath rest, a sacred assembly commemorated with trumpet blasts.’” — Leviticus 23:23–24
A note to our readers: Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is observed today and tomorrow. Because it is a non-working holiday, these devotions were prepared for you in advance.
Rosh Hashanah is identified in the Bible as “a day for you to sound the trumpets.” Indeed, Rosh Hashanah has become known for the object that symbolizes it the most: the trumpet, or in Hebrew, the shofar. The shofar has several different meanings, and together they comprise the essence of this most sacred day.
Over the course of Rosh Hashanah, the shofar is sounded in three different ways. The tekiah blast is one long sound. The shevarim blast is comprised of three slightly shorter notes. And the teruah blast contains nine, staccato-like, short blasts blown in quick succession of each other. The three different ways of blowing the shofar symbolize the three messages that we are meant to understand on the days on which it is blown.
The long singular tekiah blast reminds us of royalty. When a king enters a place, trumpets are blown to signal his presence. Similarly, on Rosh Hashanah, the King of the world is present. Every year, on Rosh Hashanah, we coronate our King all over again. We recognize that the Lord, our God, is King, and we acknowledge His dominion over the world. Message number one is that God, and God alone, rules the world.
Message number two is represented by the three-part shevarim sound, closely resembling the sound of weeping. This distinct blast reminds us that our lives, and everything that we hold dear to us, hang by a single thread held by the Master of the universe. In the blink of an eye it could all disappear! That’s why we cry. Yet our brokenness leads us to wholeness when we pray to God, asking that He bless us for yet another year. We remember that He is our loving Father and that He will answer our prayers.
The final message, the nine, short teruah blasts, are reminiscent of an alarm clock, and their purpose is to awake us from our slumber. All year long we get caught up in the humdrum of life. We begin to forget the purpose of it all. Once a year we make it a point to wake up and remember that we are here for a specific purpose. During the High Holy Days, we reassess our lives and make any necessary changes.
Together, the three distinct types of shofar sounds bring us to a deep understanding of what the holiday is all about. Rosh Hashanah literally means the “head of the year” because it is on that day that we define which way our year is headed. When we recognize that God is the King who directs our lives and we adjust our lives to reflect that truth, we will have set the New Year in the right direction.