The Meaning of the Shofar
Rabbi Lawrence Troster
Director, Fellowship Program
One the greatest of Jewish philosophers, Saadia Gaon, once listed ten reasons for the sounding of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah. One of the reasons he gives is that the shofar reminds us that Rosh Hashanah is the anniversary of Creation, by recalling that it is God who is the true sovereign of the universe and not human beings. It is so often true that we live our lives as if God does not exist. Now this is not only a theological problem, but an ethical and moral one as well. If the world only centers around ourselves (and let’s face it, we spend most of our time in that kind of mind set), then not only do we forget the people around us who are connected to us in many known and unknown ways (for example, those who maintain our water system so that when we turn on the tap we do not even think or worry if we will have fresh water or not), but we also forget how we are connected to the environment and all the other kinds of life that help to sustain us. Putting God back at the center is a humbling experience, which forces us out of ourselves.
The Shofar is one of the most ancient musical instruments known to humankind. It is human made, but out of the rough horn of a ram. This combination of natural material and human artifice reminds us not only of our humble origins as a people, but also how indebted we are to the rest of Creation for all that we have, eat, wear and celebrate with. The music it makes is loud and not subtle. It is as if the voice of the Creator is sounding out the beginning of time. It is a call back to our origins, and to the better future that we must bring about. God is calling us to restore ourselves as we restore Creation.