The Role of the Shofar in our High Holiday Prayers
By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim
Our Rabbis refer to the holiday we are about to celebrate as Rosh Hashanah – the New Year or, more accurately, “the head of the year”. In our liturgy, we also refer to this holiday as Yom Hadin – the Day of Judgement.
The biblical name for Rosh Hashanah is Yom T’ruah, which is often translated as “the day of blowing the Shofar”. But what exactly is T’ruah? And why does the Torah choose this name for the holiday?
The Talmud explains that the word T’ruah is translated into Aramaic as Yevava (to cry) and that we are obligated to blow the Shofar in what we call a T’ruah – a crying sound. There are different types of crying, which is why we blow the Shvarim, the T’ruah, and the Shvarim T’ruah. We blow a T’kiah sound before and after these blasts. On Rosh Hashanah, the Torah is commanding us to blow crying notes. Why are we instructed to do this on Rosh Hashanah?
Rav Hershel Schachter explains that everyone agrees that there is a Torah command to pray in troublesome times. He explains further that, because Rosh Hashanah is the Day of Judgement (a day when we are judged by God and our entire futures are in the balance), Rosh Hashanah is an Eit Tzarah – a troublesome time. Therefore, there is a biblical obligation to pray to God on Rosh Hashanah.
Rav Shachter explains that Rav Soloveitchik would quote the following Gemarah: “Rabbi Elazar says: Since the day the Temple was destroyed the gates of prayer were locked, and prayer is not accepted as it once was, as it is stated in lament of the Temple’s destruction: ‘Though I plead and call out, He shuts out my prayer’ (Lamentations 3:8). Yet, despite the fact that the gates of prayer were locked with the destruction of the Temple, the gates of tears were not locked, and one who cries before God may rest assured that his prayers will be answered, as it is stated: ‘Hear my prayer, Lord, and give ear to my pleading, keep not silence at my tears’ (Psalms 39:13) (Berachot 35b)”.
We see that prayers with tears and crying are so powerful that King David says confidently that God will not remain silent when he prays with tears. We have a special obligation to pray on Rosh Hashanah and have the Shofar’s cries to transform our prayers to the level of prayers with tears.
Friends, our goal on Rosh Hashanah is to realize that we stand in judgement before the Master of the Universe, to understand that our lives, the lives of our loved ones, the welfare of our nation and all humanity are in the balance – who will live and who will die – who will be sick and who will be well – who will be wealthy and who will be poor. Our response is to pray with sincerity and the crying notes of the Shofar before God. In that merit, may we all be signed and sealed for a good, healthy, wealthy, and successful year.