Listening to the Shofar

by Rabbi Brian Field

For many, the highlight of the Rosh Hashanah morning service is hearing the shofar, the ram’s horn.  The tradition is to make 100 blasts!

But what do we hear when we listen to the shofar? Over the centuries, creative Jewish teachers have shared their ideas. Here’s mine:

First some terms: A discerning listener to the shofar will hear four kinds of sounds. The first is called Tekiah. It is a short sustained blast. The second is called Shevarim. It is three sounds. The third is called Truah.  It is nine rapid tones. And the fourth is called Tekiah Gedolah or the Great Tekiah. It is a long sustained blast.

Tekiah (one short, sustained call)

“Tekiah” is the hope one feels at any beginnings, such as New Years. The wholeness we see in a baby. A small wholeness. Or perhaps a naïve wholeness, a sense that one’s limited environment is indeed the whole world.

Shevarim (three blasts)

The word “shevarim” means broken. Nothing in life is fixed. Nothing remains whole. A shell breaks and a chick is hatched. A heart breaks. Bones break. Relationships end. Water breaks and a baby is born. Emotions flare up and words get said. Things that seemed simple are revealed to be challenging and complex.

Truah (nine rapid sounds)

Hear these tones not as a breaking, but as a shattering. The shattering of a relationship betrayed, a violation of a trust, a belief or a faith overwhelmed by a tragic event, a war, a natural disaster. Hear it as a premature death, an act that seems unforgiveable. Or hear it as the smashing of the glass at the end of a wedding. Or the shattering of an old paradigm into a new way of thinking.

On Rosh Hashanah we hear “tekiah,”“shevarim” and “truah” not once but many times. Similarly, through much of our lives we cycle between times of fleeting wholeness, breakings, shatterings, over and over again until…

Tekiah Gedolah (“the great Tekiah”)

…hard-earned wisdom emerges and we perceive a great wholeness, a wholeness that transcends and includes the hope of beginnings, the inevitable breakings and the devastating shatterings, the great wholeness of life, the wholeness some call God.

 

Shofar

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