SHOFAR BLOWING DURING ELUL
During the month of Elul, the last Hebrew month before Rosh Hashanah, the Shofar is sounded at every morning service except Shabbat. In our congregation we also blow shofar at night, a custom we developed for congregants who, because of work schedules etc., could not make the morning minyan. The sounding of the shofar and its distinctive notes are related to our traditional practice for the month.
The month of Elul, coming as it does, just before and leading up to the High Holy Days traditionally involves a returning to our relationship to God and God’s other children. We call this process T’shuvah, from a Hebrew word that means “turn”. It involves and examination of our actions and words over the past year, recognition and acknowledgement of our misfires and misdeeds, making amends where possible and, finally, a sincere resolve not repeat them and to get it better next year.
The blowing of the shofar serves as a reminder of this process. It is sort of like God’s alarm clock. Perhaps it is more our alarm clock, reminding us that it is time to get up and into the process. Each of the four different notes has its own role in the self-awareness process.
The first note, Tekiah, is a single long blast of the horn. Its purpose and function is to wake us up to the realization that the time for examination and return is at hand. The suddenness with which the sound comes out of the shofar can, in fact, be startling, possibly even frightening, and I think that is a large part of the point.
The following two sounds shevarim and teruah are much shorter and, frankly, hard to make sound as loud. Shevarim consists of three notes. Each is supposed to be one-third as long as the tekiah. They often will resemble the sound of crying or wailing. This crying sound will remind us of the sadness and regret we feel as we recall, sometimes in painful detail, our shortcomings of the past year (as in “I cry because I am sorry”).
Teruah is nine rapid, staccato notes, each one ninth of tekiah. The urgency of the staccato pattern is a reminder that the time is near and there is much spiritual work to be done in a relatively short period of time. It is not only part of the alarm but a reminder that there is cause for alarm.
Finally, there is another Tekiah, or sometimes Tekiah gedolah a really big long tekiah. I like to think if it as the second sounding of the alarm after I have pushed the snooze button. It is the ticking clock and our tradition telling us that the time is now. There is no longer any time for spiritual snoozing. It reminds me of my father of blessed memory coming into the bedroom for a second time on school mornings and shouting “up and at ’em, NOW! It is getting late and time is short!”
May the sound of the shofar and the self-searching of Elul be an inspiration to a more meaningful moral and spiritual life.