The Shofar in Elul and on Rosh HaShanah

shofar-14009Saadiah Gaon was a 10th century scholar in Babylon (born in Egypt) who pioneered writing in Judeo-Arabic and whose rulings became very important in the chain of Jewish tradition. In examining the tradition of blowing the shofar (ram’s horn trumpet) after morning prayers in the month of Elul and on Rosh HaShanah, the Gaon (genius, recognized master of halakha) expounded ten reasons for its blowing.

The shofar is blown according to three patterns, considered to sound both majestic and mournful. Teruah is nine short notes. Shevarim is three quavering notes played in the same length of time as the nine for teruah. Tekiah is a long note, sustained for the length of teruah and shevarim combined.

The first reason for blowing (on Rosh HaShanah) is to commemorate the creation of the world and of Adam and Eve (a traditional belief). It seems the most authoritative tradition is that the world began on Elul 25 and Adam and Eve were created on Rosh HaShanah.

The second reason for blowing is to warn all hearers of the beginning of the ten days of awe (the period from Rosh HaShanah to Yom Kippur). As Saadiah Gaon says, kings first warn the people to keep a decree and then punish those who do not listen.

The third reason for blowing is to remind us of Mt. Sinai, from the top of which there were not only thunderous sounds, but also a trumpet which grew louder and louder (Exod. 19:19). This reminds us to accept and keep the covenant which God placed upon Israel as a duty of love.

The fourth reason for blowing is to remind us of the prophetic teachings of Israel. Ezekiel’s teaching, for example, was compared to the shofars blown in ancient times to warn the people of a coming disaster (Ezek. 33:4-5).

The fifth reason for blowing is in remembrance of the destruction of the Temple and the sounds of the enemy troops stirring for battle to annihilate the holy place. We are to remember to pray for the Temple’s rebuilding.

The sixth reason for blowing is to bring to mind the story of Isaac, who was bound for sacrifice but in whose place a ram was offered (Gen. 22). Saadiah Gaon says in the same way as Isaac we should offer our lives to God.

The seventh reason for blowing is that we would tremble before the King as Amos taught us (Amos 3:6).

The eighth reason for blowing is to be mindful of the coming day of judgment as Zephaniah taught us (Zeph. 1:14-16).

The ninth reason for blowing is to create a longing for the ingathering of exiles of Israel in the last days as Isaiah taught us (Isa. 27:13). Note that Yeshua also spoke of this (Matt. 24:31) though Christian tradition has too easily assumed this is about the church and not Israel.

Finally, the tenth reason for blowing is to remind us of the resurrection of the dead. Saadiah Gaon saw this principle at work in Isaiah 18:3. This is interesting, since Isaiah 18 gives no hint of resurrection. Yet the Gaon was right even if his proof text was unconvincing. We who follow Yeshua know of two other inspired writings which connect the shofar with the raising of the dead: 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 and 1 Corinthians 15:52.


About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
This entry was posted in Holidays, Judaism, messianic, Messianic Jewish, Messianic Judaism and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The Shofar in Elul and on Rosh HaShanah

  1. Pingback: High Holidays 101: Elul and Its Meaning « Messianic Jewish Musings

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