Sounding the Great Shofar for Our Freedom

On Wednesday afternoon, as Yom Kippur is coming to a close, we will all be tired, exhausted and hungry. Twenty six hours will have passed since we last ate, and standing for the entire Ne’ilah won’t have helped either. As the sun begins to set, we up the ante, crying out all forty four of the Avinu Malkenu prayers, and then we reach the final, most direct part of the tefilah, shouting “Shema Yisrael,” “Baruch Shem Kevod Malchuto Le’olam Va’ed,” and “Hashem Hu Ha’Elokim.” Last but certainly not least, the obligatory Kaddish Shalem ends the Ne’ilah service and the tefilot of Yom Kippur… except that we then blow the shofar and sing “Le’Shana Haba’ah Bi’Yerushalayim.”

Throughout the years, Chazal have given different reasons for this final shofar blowing on Yom Kippur. The main explanation offered is that this is symbolic of the tekiat shofar at the beginning of the Yovel year- Hashem commanded that at the sound of the “trumpet” on Yom Kippur of the fiftieth year, “you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land”; property will be returned to its original owner and Jewish slaves will be freed. Since we don’t know exactly which year this is, we blow the shofar every year, in case it is in fact Yovel, or just as a reminder of this mitzvah.

Other chachamim taught that this shofar blowing signals the end of the Yamim Nora’im, the days of judgement which began with daily tekiot shofar over a month ago, and included the extensive 100 kolot blown on Rosh Hashana. Just as judgement began with tekiot on Rosh Chodesh Elul, it ends with tekiot on Motz’ei Yom Kippur.

While each of these approaches has its merit, none manages to explain why we follow the tekiot with the singing of “LeShana Haba’ah Bi’Yerushalayim,” except for a very interesting explanation brought anonymously in Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’s commentary of the Koren Yom Kippur machzor.

There it is written that these kolot shofar are not primarily a reminder of the mitzvah of Yovel, nor a signal that the time of judgement is over. Rather, they are a symbolic prayer for the fulfillment of the beracha of Shofarot in the Mussaf of Rosh Hashana:

אֱלקינוּ וֵאלקי אֲבותֵינוּ, תְּקַע בְּשׁופָר גָּדול לְחֵרוּתֵנוּ, וְשָׂא נֵס לְקַבֵּץ גָּלֻיּותֵינוּ, וְקַיֵּם לָנוּ ה’ אֱלהֵינוּ אֶת הַדָּבָר שֶׁהִבְטַחְתָּנוּ בְּתורָתָךְ, עַל יְדֵי משֶׁה עַבְדָּךְ, מִפִּי כְבודָךְ כָּאָמוּר.
וּבְיום שִׂמְחַתְכֶם וּבְמועֲדֵיכֶם וּבְרָאשֵׁי חָדְשֵׁכֶם וּתְקַעְתֶּם בַּחֲצצְרת עַל עלתֵיכֶם וְעַל זִבְחֵי שַׁלְמֵיכֶם, וְהָיוּ לָכֶם לְזִכָּרון לִפְנֵי אֱלקיכֶם אֲנִי ה’ אֱלקיכֶם:

In Shofarot, we pray for kibutz galiyot, and remind Hashem of earlier times, when our ancestors brought korbanot in the Bet Hamikdash to the sound of the shofar. In this beracha, we connect the blowing of the shofar in the past, with the blowing of the shofar in the future, linking kibutz galiyot with the avoda in the Bet Hamikdash. We beg Hashem to give us a chance to serve Him again in this way, and show that the shofar is symbolic of this ideal service of Hashem.

However, the shofar symbolizes much more than this- it has forever been an icon of redemption, unity and nationhood. As the Torah was given to our forebears on Mt. Sinai, it was to the sound (and sight- “וכל העם רואים את הקולות”) of the shofar. When Moshe returned forty days later, and the Jews were forgiven for their iniquity with the Golden Calf, the shofar was blown once again.

After we’ve spent twenty six hours praying for the next year, to be sealed in the Book of Life, it is difficult to spare any words thinking forward. We spend every Yom Kippur praying to continue to see another year, but precious little, especially in the final tefilah of Ne’ilah, is spared about praying for the end of our suffering. The tefilah is so dedicated to guiding us to beg for a year of life, that it focuses very little on begging for eternal life, for the coming of mashiach and the World to Come.

However, at this final moment of Yom Kippur, just as our fate is about to be sealed for the coming year and we have exhausted all of our words and tefilot, we simply blow the shofar. This wordless prayer is symbolically beseeching Hashem: “Just as we have sounded the shofar at this final moment of the holiest day of the year, as all of our sins have been atoned, please seal us as being worthy of hearing Your shofar, and meriting a fulfillment of the tefilah of Shofrot. Please judge us and seal us as being worthy of “לשנה הבאה בירושלים הבניוה.””

At this time, we are so confident that Hashem has answered all of our tefilot- for being sealed in the Book of Life, and meriting the Messianic blowing of the shofar- that the previously exhausted, hungry, thirsty and tired congregation immediately bursts into song, singing of our joy that we will be in a rebuilt Jerusalem this year.

In modern Jewish history, the blowing of the shofar has has a very prominent role. In 1967, as Israeli troops recaptured the site of the Bet Hamikdash, Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren got up in front of the soldiers with him, and blew the shofar, crying “הר הבית בידינו!- The Temple Mount is in Our Hands!” Even before making this famous announcement, Rav Goren’s first instinct was to blow the shofar, symbolizing how important the recovery of the site of the Bet Hamikdash was for the ge’ulah.

Jumping forward to 5776, day-to-day control of Har HaBayit has been returned to our Jordanian enemies, and the situation has become almost impossible for the few brave Jews who attempt to symbolize our control over this site by visiting there. The international world has decided that Jordanian and Palestinian incitement is the fault of those activists who visit the Temple Mount, and our own government is too afraid to stop this, letting its police try to keep the quiet at the expense of legal Jewish rights to pray, bow, and even wash their hands there.

As we prepare for the holiest day of the year, let us not forget the holiest place in the world. When we hear the shofar on Wednesday evening, and sing “LeShana Haba’ah BiYerushalayim,” let us pray for a time when we will have full control and rights in the center of the world. Let us pray for construction of the third and final Bet Hamikdash there, and let us pray for Hashem to reciprocate Rav Goren’s shofar blowing with His own, signaling our freedom and the end of our suffering.

With Hashem’s help, we will merit to be sealed not only in the Book of Life for 5776, but in the Book of Eternal Life, in yemot hamashiach. May this year be the end of our suffering and pain, and a year of health, happiness, success, and complete redemption. Gemar Chatima Tova!

About the Author
Born and raised in Teaneck NJ, Tzvi Silver moved to Israel in 2012 after catching aliyah fever while learning abroad. Tzvi is now pursuing a degree in Engineering from the Jerusalem College of Technology, and works on the side as a contributor for local newspapers in the New York Area. Tzvi's interests include learning Torah, rabble-rousing, and finding creative ways of mixing the two.
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