The sounds of the shofar are still ringing in our ears. That sound should reverberate all through the next eight days of Aseres Yemai Teshuvah. Why? If we really understood the message of the shofar, we would not only occupy ourselves with its teaching during these days of teshuva, but rather throughout every day of our lives.

The Torah calls Rosh Hashanah יום תרועה  the day of blowing the shofar. Yet we end all the berachos of Rosh Hashana (Kiddush, Shemoneh Esrai, Haftorah) by identifying it as יום הזכרון. We find this description of Rosh Hashanah in the passuk זכרון תרועה (Vayikrah 23,24) a remembrance of the sound of the shofar. In this description, the essence is really the teruah and not the remembrance. So why then did our Chachamim choose to end the beracha with יום הזכרוןwithout mentioning the purpose of the זכרון? Secondly what exactly is to be remembered, the shofar? Hashem? The Akaidah? Am Yisrael before Hashem in judgment? 

The Vilna Gaon writes that the purpose of the shofar is to arouse mercy and compassion in Hashem towards His people. The passuk in Chabakuk (3,2) says ברוגז רחם תזכור. When Hashem becomes angry He will remember to have mercy. This passuk concerns Rosh Hashanah which is the Day of Judgment. By blowing the shofar, compassion on Yisrael is aroused and that is why Rosh Hashanah is called יום הזכרון  because the middah of mercy on us is remembered by Hashem

How do the sounds of shofar achieve the flow of rachmanus on Am Yisrael? We will now interpret the sounds of the shofar as a symbolic process of one who is on the journey of teshuvah. The first note blown on the shofar is תקיעה which is long and solid and void of any breaks. This represents the individual who lives in self deception and sees himself as flawless with little or no need for improvement. In Yiddish the expression of such a person is a “Shayner Yid”.  The name of the first sound of the shofar is called תקיעה which means dislocated or moved from its place as found in the passuk ותקע כף ירך יעקב  (Bereishis 32,26). The first תקיעה is the mussar message to the individual who is complacent in his spirituality and is not spiritually growth oriented. Wake up and move from such a distorted self portrait for only Hashem is perfect.

The second sound of the shofar is שברים  which translates as breaks. The passuk in Tehillim says אשרי שאל יעקב בעזרו שברו על הויה אלהיו. Praiseworthy is one whose help is Yaakov’s Hashem whose hope is in Hashem his G-d. The Zohar Hakodesh comments that one should also read the word שברו not only with the first letter sounding as a sin, but also as a shin by switching the dot on top of the letter from left to right. The wordשבר  with a shin means to break. Dovid Hamelech is telling us that man’s hope in this world is to break himself for Hashem. In order for one to grow from level to level he must desire to change and be willing to place himself in an uncomfortable zone where he meets resistance and challenge. In other words he must break the yetzerharah, his middah of laziness, swim against the tide, surrender some of his selfishness, all of which not everyone is willing to do. However, when one understands that this process of breaking oneself is the only hope for man to become close to Hashem and fulfill his potential, he is then able to muster enough courage and stamina to make the move and make it a life pattern. Chazal say (Niddah) that before the neshamah descends into a body, it swears that it will make the person to be a tzaddik. Not mediocre, not a mechanical robot, and not that he will retire from spiritual growth at twenty. אדם לעמל יולד(Iyuv 5,7) Man was born to toil by breaking himself. The more one toils to get closer to Hashem the more one can say that his relationship with Hashem is one of He isאלי אתה (ailee) My G-d as hinted in the acronym of the passuk.

Once an individual realizes that he possesses shortcomings and faultsבין אדם לחבירו ובין אדם למקום, and that he strayed away from his mission and purpose of life, he then proceeds to experience introspections of his spiritual inventory and begins a spiritual rehabilitation by breaking himself. This part of the journey is called שברים. There are three sounds which correspond to our three Avos. It was our Avos who implanted in their descendants the drive and the success of breaking oneself to fulfill the desire of their creator. That is why together they lived 502 years the gematriah of  – שבר breaking; Avraham 175, Yitzchak 180 and Yaakov 147. Our mesiras nefesh for this selflessness to Hashem was inherited from our Avos.

The passuk says (Iyuv 19,26) מבשרי אחזה אלוק from my flesh and body I can see G-dliness. How is that possible? The individual who follows in the footsteps of the Avos to break himself by disciplining his limbs and senses to be used only for kedusha, thereby sanctifies his body by preparing it to be a dwelling place of the Shechinah. That is why we find the gematriah of שברים to equal מבשרי.

However, even in the “breaking process” there are many levels. For instance, Chazal tell us (Eruvin 13b) that now that man is created יפשפש במעשיו ויש אומרים ימשמש במעשיו. The Mesillas Yesharim chapter 3 explains that the פשפושprocess is to make a self introspection to see if he conducts himself with any prohibitions from Hashem or that he is the owner of undesirable middos. These shortcomings of course require immediate rectification.  The inspection of משמוש on the other hand, is done with a fine comb where one examines his mitzvos and good deeds to clarify if there are any inadequacies in his mitzvosperformance that can be upgraded and enhanced and fulfilled with deeper intention and kavanah. This segment of ימשמש is symbolized by the nine blasts of the teruah sound. It is at these sounds that we break the שברים even further from three sounds into nine. It is subsequent that we rid ourselves of aveirosand we are left only with mitzvos, we break down the mitzvos further to ensure one’s sheleimus in the mitzvah, both from the aspect of the physical and spiritual.

The teruah is then followed by a second תקיעה. This repeated tekiah’s nature is different from the first. Its interpretation of תקיעה stems from the lashon to drive in a peg of a tent and to fasten. It is the opposite of the first תקיעה where we find the individual removed from his own disillusioned reality of Torah observance. This is in contrast to the second תקיעה where after the process of breaking and changing himself, we find that this same individual is transformed into a wholesome and a connected entity to the real inner him and Hashem.

The יום תרועה  is the day when a Yid must commit himself to break his middosand yetzer harah in order to accept Hashem as his melech. When hearing the sounds of the shofar and simultaneously missing the opportunity to take upon oneself to change upgrade and break himself, then he did not really say he heard the inner blasts of the shofar which sends this clear message.

The word תרועה  also possesses two meanings; one is to break תרועם בשבט ברזל  (Tehillim 2,9) and the other is to join and fasten, ריע means friend. By hearing and identifying with the process of spiritual growth which the shofar manifests one becomes attached to Hashem in a deep way.

This entire concept is hinted in the gematriah of  שופר which is the gematriahof שברו הויה אלהיו. By undergoing the process ofשברו  (shin) one has the hope of redemption because Hashem will become אלהיו.

Let us now return to the interpretation of the Vilna Gaon. The goal of the shofar is to stir up Hashem’s compassion for Am Yisrael and to judge them with mercy. This is achieved by the blowing of the shofar for it arouses Yisrael to break themselves to Hashem. It is through embracing more challenges to serve Hashem, one demonstrates his love of Hashem, his servitude to Him, which brings out Hashem’s love mercy and concern for our welfare. We bring out Hashem’s arousal of רחמנות – Yom Hazikaron, and He rises from the throne of judgment and sits on the throne of mercy.

The sounds of the shofar must echo with us not only during the Aseres YemaiTeshuvah but they are to accompany us during our entire journey of life.שופר  contains the word פשר  which means compromised like lukewarm water which are called מים פושרין. You might erroneously settle for such a Torah life style but you would definitely refuse luke warm chicken soup!

Yet שופר also translates asשפיר  to become better, to upgrade. In fact if one reads the word שופר with a sin (dot on the top left) it is the equivalent pronunciation of the word SUPER. Don’t settle to live on automatic pilot in your Yiddishkeit. Another support to the increased ruchniyus caused by the shofar is that in the wordשופר , there is also the word פרו the command of Hashem to Adam and Chavah to be fruitful. Being fruitful connotes not only by having a physical birth of children but also with spiritual growth which is also called a birth. As the passuk says אלה תולדות נח נח איש צדיק תמים the descendants of Noach was Noach. He gave birth to himself spiritually since he became a tzadik and a tamim even in such a degenerate generation. Who needs a chauffer with you when you have a shofar with you every step of the way.

– Rav Brazil

Gut Shabbos