Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig
e-mail yosil@MNSi.net

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One of the central ritual's of Rosh Hashanah is the sounding of the Shofar (ram's horn) during the Mussaf (additional) service. In fact, one of the many names attached to this Awesome Day is Yom Teruah - the Day of the Shofar Blasts. Normally, the Shofar is blown on both the first and second days of Rosh Hashanah, but because the festival this year begins on Shabbat (Friday night and Saturday) the Shofar will only be blown on Sunday, the second day of Yom Tov. The Shofar sounds are meant to awaken the hearts of Am Yisrael (the people of Israel) from its slumber to do Teshuvah (repentance). Each sound should set off a different tide of emotions within the Jewish psyche. Exactly what each sound is meant to emote is the subject of this week's "Vortify."

When the Shofar is blown on Rosh HaShana, three different types of noises are blasted. The first is a "Teki'ah" - a long continuous burst. The second blast is called a "Shevarim" - consisting of three shorter blasts. The third and final sound is the "Teruah" - a set of nine short staccato bursts of sound. The Gemara in Rosh HaShana tells us that the later two sounds (the Shevarim and the Teruah) are meant to sound like crying: "... sighing ... and, the wail of short piercing cries."

The Ben Ish Chai (The Chacham Yosef Chayim, Bagdad - 1833-1909) writes that these later two blasts 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 emotions represented by the various Shofar blasts, the Ba'al Tokay'a (the person delegated to blow the Shofar) is instructed to separate the contrasting Shofar sounds with proper breath control so that the listeners may differentiate the blasts.

The Ben Ish Chai continued with an explanation of why the sounds of both joy and sorrow are emitted from the Shofar. He tells the story of a man who had a ring made especially for him. He engraved the words "This, too, will pass" on the ring. If he was troubled or pained, he would look at his ring and remember that his suffering would eventually end. This thought brought him comfort. Likewise, during times of happiness, he would gaze at the ring as well and realize that his wealth and good fortune could change for the worse in an instant. Good times do not last forever. The man recognized that he should not become conceited or haughty over circumstances which were beyond his control and could change at any moment.

The ring reminded the man that his life must be put in perspective, and that one should never live life either complacent or despondent.

The Tekiah, the first long sound, is a sound of joy and happiness.

Immediately after we hear the long exultant blast, we hear the Shevarim and Teruah the sounds of sadness, pain and suffering. The contrast between these sounds is intentional. We must remember while listening to the Tekiah that we cannot forget G-d during times of contentment, and we cannot let our egos swell from our personal achievements. Success can quickly turn into failure. Only with G-d's help do we prosper, and only with G-d's help will we continue to do so. Then, upon hearing the sorrowful sounds of the Shevarim and Teruah, we should not become depressed and despondent thinking that G-d has forsaken us. Instead, we should be comforted by the Tekiah that immediately follows that signifies that G-d is ever present, and in His mercy will help us return to a state of jubilation once again.

Shanah Tova, May you all be inscribed in the Book of Life for a year of peace, prosperity and health.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig

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