The Torah, in Bamidbar, Numbers 29:1, calls Rosh Hashanah, Yom Teruah, literally the day of loud noises. The shofar, the ram’s horn, is what makes those noises on Rosh Hashanah and at the end of Yom Kippur, and there are a number of reasons why it is sounded on the High Holiday.
One reason is from “Akeidat Yitzchak,” the story of the “Binding of Isaac” (Bereishit, Genesis 21: 2), when Abraham attempted to carry out the command of God to sacrifice his son Isaac as a show of faith. When God stopped Abraham from sacrificing Isaac, an offering was still made. A ram was caught in a nearby thicket by its horns and Abraham made that ram a burnt-offering instead of Isaac. This event took place on Rosh Hashanah and it is one of the reasons the Torah portion of this occurrence is read on the holiday.
Rabbi Abahu in the Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 16a) stated that God wanted a shofar to be blown on Rosh Hashanah as a reminder of Abraham’s faith at the Binding of Isaac and count it as if we had faith enough to bind ourselves for sacrifice.
Later in the Talmud (Ibid., 33b), the Rabbis added that a shofar is used because it was blasted to announce the Jubilee year, and the related verse (Vayikra, Leviticus 25:9) superfluously adds the words “in the seventh month.” That month would already be made clear because of the same verse’s mention of the month in which Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, occurs, the seventh month. The Rabbis derived from the additional words that all soundings during that month, which includes Rosh Hashanah, must be done with a shofar.
The shofar is not just used on the Jewish New Year, but also blown each day of the month preceding the holiday as a sort of call to arms through the holiday, to reflect at what has past and what will be coming.
Repentance and forgiveness are major elements of the High Holidays, if both can be attained, or even broached within people’s minds. For too many, Rosh Hashanah is simply another holiday, even if it is deemed more important spiritually and a big deal is made.
But it seems the person-to-God desire for absolution, as opposed to the person-to-person aspect, is sufficient for those who think their religious observances are enough. It is not.
And haven’t we all felt that our own good deeds and sacrifices were forgotten by others who live by the credo of “What have you done for me lately?” Or, “What can you do for me?”
Too many times people justify hurting others, or don’t even think about their words and actions because they feel morally superior, or just don’t care, or made relationships conditional or by their own terms. Sincerity was never truly an option, apologizing not even a thought. And how does one forgive those so not governed by their better angels?
At this time of year, it would be well for those who pray that they fear God to truly comprehend that He is the only judge as to another’s sins and spiritual and non-spiritual fitness, not them, whether one believes strongly or not. Not everyone can be Abraham.
Finally, I am an emotional and passionate person, as many know, and as I look back over this last year, I have hurt and been hurt. We all have. We are all guilty of missteps. I have regrets and I am sure most everyone else does as well. People have come to us and people have left us, both emotionally and physically. Such is life.
But I have also made new relationships or strengthened others making even the most painful loss palatable. And when malice and sadness invaded my emotional space, this cynical wordsmith was at times reminded of the existence of good. I hope for many more such reminders.
Shanah Tovah Umetukah, my friends. Have a sweet New Year.