The month of Elul is here (it started Monday, September 1). This is a 30-day period of preparation for the High Holidays (Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur). Rosh HaShanah begins at sundown on Monday, September 29, 2008.
During this month, the shofar (ram’s horn) is blown each morning. Below I relate my own sort of first impression of the shofar.
This is a month for extra prayer and beginning to take a spiritual accounting so that our repentance is complete when the High Holidays arrive. There is a tradition of praying three psalms a day (starting at the beginning of Psalms) as well as praying Psalm 27 each day for the month of Elul.
The following is an excerpt from my book, Feast: Finding Your Place at the Table of Tradition by LifeWay (threadsmedia.com).
The horn looked funny. I had heard that the trumpets Joshua’s men blew at Jericho were animal horns, but I’d never seen anything like it. It was twisty and about three feet long. The leader put the shofar or ram’s horn to his lips and started to blow.
I found out later that this “instrument” was actually from an animal called a kudu, an African antelope with massive horns. Ram’s horns are still sold and used, but many people prefer the longer, more beautiful kudu horns.
Since my first exposure to a shofar, I’ve held many sizes and shapes and even tried them out. I’ll never forget the first time I smelled the inside of one!
But that first experience was unique, hearing the shofar blown on Rosh HaShanah. I had no idea what it would be like. Would he play a tune with it? Can you do that on a natural trumpet with no valves? Would be just give it one long blast? The reality of the service surpassed my anticipation. A caller yelled out three different patterns: tekia, a long blast; shevarim, three short blasts; and teruah, nine quick blasts. For a solid five minutes the caller shouted out variations of these patterns. At the end, there was one sustained blast. With each blowing our emotions rose until the end, when we were on the edge of our seats, our ears ringing with God’s majesty.