The Sounds of the Shofar
By Rabbi Yehudah Prero
When the Shofar is blown on Rosh HaShana, three different types of noises are
sounded. The first is a "teki'ah." This sound is one long continuous burst.
The second sound is called a "shevarim." It consists of three shorter blasts.
The third sound is the "teruah." The teruah is a set of nine short bursts of
sound, a staccato blast. The Gemora in Rosh HaShana tells us that these later
two sounds are meant to sound like crying: ". . . drawing a long sigh. . .
uttering short piercing cries." The Ben Ish Chai writes that these sounds are
meant to contrast with the tekiah. The tekiah, he explains, is a sound of
triumph and joy, while the shevarim and teruah are sounds of pain and
suffering. Because of the opposing feelings they represent, when one blows
the shofar, he is not to connect the tekiah with the others, by blowing the
sounds with the same breath.
Why do we have both sounds of joy and sounds of sorrow emitted from the
Shofar? The Ben Ish Chai explains by means of a story. A man had a ring
specially made for him. Upon this ring, he had engraved the words "This, too,
will pass." If he were troubled and in pain, he would look at his ring and
remember that the suffering would eventually end. This thought comforted him.
During times of happiness and comfort, he would gaze at the ring as well. He
would realize that his wealth and good fortune could change for the worst in
an instant. Good times are not forever. He would recognize that there was no
reason to become conceited and haughty over circumstances which were beyond
his control and could turn adverse without any warning. This ring reminded
the man that all in his life had to be put in perspective, and that one
should live his life neither complacent nor despondent.
The tekiah, the first sound, is a sound of joy and happiness. Immediately
after we hear the long exultant blast, we hear the shevarim and teruah. These
are both sounds of sadness, pain and suffering. The stark contrast between
these sounds is intentional. We are supposed to remember while listening to
the shofar that we cannot forget G-d during times of contentment, and we
cannot let our egos swell from our achievements. Success can quickly turn
into failure. Only with G-d's help did we prosper, and only with G-d's help
will we continue to do so. However, upon hearing the sorrowful sound of the
Shofar, we should not think that in times of suffering G-d has forsaken us.
We should not become depressed and despondent. Right after these blasts, we
sound a tekiah again, to signify that G-d is there, and in His mercy will
help us return to a state of jubilation again.
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For questions, comments, and topic requests, please write to Rabbi Yehudah Prero.
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