Rosh Hashanah: The Long Blast

Three Sounds
The best known sound in Jewish tradition is that of the Shofar. One long blast called Tekiah, three short blasts called Shevarim and nine staccato blasts called Teruah. The blasts are sounded in that order except that after the third blast, the first one, the Tekiah, is sounded again. Effectively, the second and third blasts are bracketed by the Tekiah, the single long blast. What is the significance of this repeat?
Wordless Sound
Lets first talk about why we sound the Shofar. If we have something to say on this holy day, why don’t we just say it? To trumpet wordless sounds evokes caveman images of times when language was nascent and the verbal spectrum was too limited to convey complex ideas. We now know how to articulate, why don’t we?
The answer is that we articulate plenty on these days of awe. We stand for hours on end, turning page upon page of prayer and plea. But there is a level of emotion that cannot be articulated, it is a depth beyond words. That camber can only be accessed through wordless sound.
Every language has an equivalent of the word ouch. Yet, no matter which language we speak, when we experience very intense and pervasive pain, we just scream. We don’t say, I am in pain, we don’t even say, ouch. Instead we emit a shout so guttural that it communicates a pain beyond words. Words can’t capture such deep and pervasive pain. It can only be conveyed through a shout.
The same is true of emotion. Some feelings can be communicated through poetry. Deeper emotions, with a glance. Sometimes emotions are so intense that they evince tears of joy. Some emotions are so powerful, so deep, that all you can do is sigh and say aaaah.
Then there is the emotion beyond articulation. Even wordless sound can’t capture it. We can’t convey it. That is what we feel on Rosh Hashanah. It is a bond with G-d, so deep, vast and pervasive that no humanly emitted sound does it justice. Instead we use an instrument and sound a powerful blast. It blasts an opening in our hearts powerful enough to release torrents of deeply held and long repressed emotions. It blasts an opening in our souls through which an untapped yearning for G-d cascades.
Replenishing the River
The metaphor given for this is a riverbed that goes dry. After years of flowing, a combination of ecologic and climactic factors have conspire to dry it out the river. One day you realize that your river has run dry. How do you refill it? You dig for a wellspring. When you reach it, the water rushes to the surface and refills your river. The river will now run full again, perhaps even fuller than before.
Our relationship with G-d sometimes runs dry when we take Him for granted and pay more attention to our interests than to His. Throughout the year we don’t notice that the water levels are dipping. There is still plenty of water left in the riverbed so we don’t take note. But when the river runs dry we can’t keep lying to ourselves. We have to sit up and take note.
On Rosh Hashanah we take a peek at our river and discover that it is dry. We need to replenish the connection, but where do we take it from? We need to find a new source because the old well has run dry. This is why we dig deep into our souls, to a place that is yet untapped, a place that is beyond articulation, to tap a new, fresh, hitherto unexperienced, connection with G-d.
In the Holy of Holies
This is why the moment of Shofar sounding is so spiritual and uplifting. We can feel the Shofar strum the strings of our soul. We can feel the vibrations deep within and the stirring release of powerful connections. This is why many Jews, who don’t frequent the synagogue throughout the year, make a point of attending on Rosh Hashanah. How can we miss it? It is the most meaningful and powerful experience in the repertoire of our tradition.
We stand silently and listen, evoking memories of the High Priest in the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year. He too stood silently, breathing not a word. When he stepped out of the Holy of Holies, he chanted a short prayer, with an emphasis on short, but in the room he was silent.
The connection he felt with G-d in that holy space was indescribable. Beyond words and beyond sound. When he stood there, he was not a private individual. He represented the entire nation. Every soul was within him. The reverence felt by him reverberated across every soul in the nation especially those who were present in the Temple at that time.
We don’t have the Temple today and aren’t able to experience the connection with G-d that was present then. And though we await its rebuilding every day with the coming of Moshiach, it is not here yet. In the meantime we must make do with an alternative. The closest we can get to that experience, is the wordless inarticulate blast of the Shofar’s horn.
The Repeating Blast
We now return to the repeating of the Tekiah, the single long blast. Of the three sounds, the long blast is the least articulate. Though the other sounds are also wordless, they have character. The Shevarim is a groan. The Teruah is a sob. They communicate a message that tells us what to feel. The Tekiah is just a cry. A deep piercing wail that says nothing. It comes from the depth and has no message beyond the simple, I am here.
The groaning and sobbing evinces remorse for having allowed our river to run dry. The Tekiah is the blasting that strikes a wellspring to refill it. The first Tekiah is the agonizing cry from our depths. The second Tekiah is G-d’s response from above. Just like our yearning emits from our depths, G-d’s response emerges from His depths.
From the straits I call to G-d, from a vast expanse G-d responds. Our first blast calls out to G-d from the straits, the deep confined place that has never yet been tapped. The Divine response comes from the celestial wellspring that abounds with love and forgiveness. It is the wellspring that we sought to tap with our blast. The first blast gives voice to our desperation. The second blast gives voice to His answer.
In summation, the sounds of the Shofar communicate the following message. Tekiah, we are desperate for G-d, we yearn for G-d from our depths. Shevarim, Teruah, we are brokenhearted over having allowed our relationship to run dry. Tekiah, G-d responds with love and says, return my children return. No matter where you have roamed, you can always come back home.