While the theme of Rosh Hashanah is atonement for sin, the blowing of the shofar — an instrument made from the horn of a ram or other kosher animal — is the main ritual of the day.
The Bible refers to the festival of Rosh Hashanah as “the day of the blowing of the shofar.” As it states in Numbers 29:1, “On the first day of the seventh month hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work. It is a day for you to sound the trumpets.”
And Leviticus 23:2425 states, “Say to the Israelites: ‘On the first day of the seventh month you are to have a day of rest, a sacred assembly commemorated with trumpet blasts. Do no regular work, but present an offering made to the Lord by fire.’”
There are three distinct types of blasts sounded on the shofar — a long, drawn-out sound called tekiah; a broken, plaintive sound called shevarim; and a series of sharp, wailing, staccato sounds called teruah.
A total of 100 blasts are sounded on each of the two days of Rosh Hashanah, followed by the congregational recitation of biblical verses reminding them of their covenant with God.
The shofar symbolizes:
- Revelation, the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai (Exodus 19:16, 19)
- God’s coronation, the reaffirmation of God’s sovereignty and kingship (Psalm 98:6)
- The akedah, the story of the sacrifice of Isaac, where the ram’s horn, which was caught in the bushes, became an eternal symbol of Abraham and Isaac’s trust in God, even in the face of death (Genesis 22)
- Repentance, a wake-up call to arouse the people from their moral reverie
- The Messianic age, a reminder of God’s promise to bring Messiah who ushers into the world an age of physical and spiritual peace (Isaiah 27:13)