A Jewish worshipper blows a Shofar, at the Western Wall ahead of Rosh Hashana.
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)
The shofar is one of the strongest images associated with the High Holy Days. Its link to Rosh Hashana is crystal clear. After all, the Torah’s name for the New Year is Yom Teruah – a Day of Blowing: we are commanded to hear the shofar on Rosh Hashana, and the horn’s blasts are the epicenter of the day’s services.
But how does the shofar connect to Yom Kippur? Why do we herald the closing of the most auspicious day in our calendar by sounding the shofar? Several explanations are offered.
In the days before clocks, the shofar’s loud sound told the whole community that the fast was finally over and it was ok to eat. Historically, a ram’s horn shofar
was sounded to usher in the Jubilee year in which the land was to lie fallow, debts were forgiven, and slaves were freed and able to return home to their families. We no longer have a Jubilee, but blow the shofar to commemorate this ancient biblical command.
Pragmatism aside, there are also several symbolic reasons for sounding the shofar to end the fast: Millennia ago, when our ancestors accepted the Torah at Mount Sinai, the “shofar’s voice rang out and became continually stronger” (Exodus 19:19). As Yom Kippur ends, we are spiritually cleansed and ready to once again accept God’s laws, and the shofar’s poignant cry reminds us of our original commitment of na’aseh venishma
(we will do and we will listen).
Psalms 47:6 tells us that “God has ascended with blowing; the Lord with the voice of the shofar”. Following Rosh Hashanah and the 10 Days of Repentance which culminate in Yom Kippur, God’s divine presence has been close to us. As Yom Kippur ends, we mark God’s ascension to his higher realms with a shofar blast.
Additionally, in Biblical times the shofar’s call was a battle cry. Symbolically, it rallies us as God’s soldiers to action: it’s our wake-up call to leave the day’s solemnity behind and fight to live the best life possible. Similarly, the shofar was also used to herald victory after a battle across the land. We are confident that after a full day of fasting, prayer, and repentance, God will have forgiven our sins and inscribed us into the Book of Life. The triumphant shofar blast rings out to celebrate the acceptance of our prayers.
Yom Kippur’s prayer services climax with several sentiments that are so powerfully felt that they bear repetition: the heartfelt Avinu Malkeinu
prayer begs God as our Father and King to forgive our sins and bless our lives. It is followed by the shema
– our declaration of the Almighty as our one true God – and its accompanying verse Baruch shem
three times. We then proclaim Hashem Hu ha’Elohim
– the Lord, he is God – seven times. This dramatic ending is fervent, stirring up emotions that almost defy words. A single, long note emanates from the shofar and seamlessly cuts through the moment’s frenzy. It brings pure, cleansing relief and a spiritually stunning climax to the day.