Why Do We Blow the Shofar on Rosh Hashana?
For every five Jews there are ten reasons for blowing the Shofar on Erev Rosh Hashana. The Orthodox have their reasons, the Conservatives have their reasons, the Reformed have their reasons, the Reconstructionists have their reasons. Everyone has their reasons! For Humanistic Judaism, Rosh Hashana is a time of looking backwards and looking forwards. Backwards at the year we have just finished, forward at the new year to come. A good time for reflection. A good time for commitment. And so there are a few reasons why we Humanistic Jews blow the Shofar on Rosh Hashana.
1. Because our Ancestors blew the Shofar on Rosh Hashana!
The attitude of “We’ve always done it that way!” is not always helpful, we know. Clinging to the past can be a problem, if it gets us stuck there and prevents us from enjoying the present or moving into the future. But “Tradition” is not all bad! It helps us remember who we are, where we came from, and the generations who lived and died in this world so that we might also live and die, and pass on a heritage to generations yet to come.
In the Book of Leviticus (Vayikra – and He spoke), our Ancestors proclaimed:
And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying: Speak unto the children of Israel, saying:
In the seventh month, in the first day of the month, shall be a solemn rest unto you, a memorial proclaimed with the blast of horns, a holy convocation. Ye shall do no manner of servile work; and ye shall bring an offering made by fire unto the LORD.
and in the Book of Numbers (Bamidbar – in the Wilderness):
And in the seventh month, on the first day of the month, ye shall have a holy convocation: ye shall do no manner of servile work; it is a day of blowing the horn unto you
You want the chapter and verse for these proclamations? Better you should look it up yourself!
As our ancestors did before us, so we do, and so shall our children shall do after us. It is a way of remembering that we are Jews, and proclaiming that memory to the ages.
2. It is our Annual Alarm Clock!
From the end of the High Holidays to their beginning, we go through all the rest of the year about our business of living. And we do not always remember the important things. Especially, we may grow lax in the three principles of Rosh Hashana: Teshuvah, Tefillah, and Tzedakah.
Teshuvah (Returning): A return to our true selves, an honest self-evaluation of the life we have lived during the past year.
Tefillah (Repentance): Being honest about our ethical failures, what can we do in the year ahead to improve?
Tzedakah (Charitable Giving): Giving of ourselves to others in need is a moral obligation, and by offering hope and healing to others, we ourselves become better persons.
Of course we intend to practice Teshuvah, Tefillah, and Tzedakah every day of the year! But, sometimes we forget, sometimes we fall asleep. The Shofar is our alarm clock.
3. It Makes a lot of Noise!
The ending of the old year is a time of celebration! And what is a celebration without a lot of Noise? On The fourth of July we shoot off fireworks. On Decmeber 31, the civil New Year, we blow horns and employ noisemakers of all kinds. On Erev Rosh Hashana, we blow the Ram’s Horn! For our ancient Ancestors, back before our Jewish ones, all this noise on New Year’s Eve had another important purpose: to scare away any evil spirits that might slip into the world through the crack between the old year and the new. Could this be helpful today? Who knows? It couldn’t hurt!
4. It Honors the King!
Okay, today most of us do not have a king. But our Ancestors did. And whenever the King showed up, trumpets were blown. Today we blow the Shofar to honor what is regal in every human being!
5. The Primal Scream!
Some people say the Shofar sounds like a primal scream out of the depths of time. And they are right. It is the scream of humanity born of fear, hope, rage, joy – the eternal cry for meaning in this universe where we find ourselves.
You know, we could go on and on. Doubtless you know many other good reasons for blowing the Shofar on Rosh Hashana, from announcing dinner is served, to reminding our neighbors there are Jews in the neighborhood, to simply “that’s what my family (or my congregation) always did.”
But most of all, it is to proclaim L’Shana Tovah: For A Good Year, a Sweet Year, a Year of Joy and Hope!
~ Walter William Melnyk
Rosh Hashana 5778