My sermon for the first day of Rosh Hashanah 5774.
The Cry of the Shofar
Congregation Dorshei Emet
Rosh Hashanah Day 1: September 5, 2013
Rabbi Julia Appel
The Torah describes Rosh Hashanah in the following way: “In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe complete rest, a sacred occasion commemorated with loud blasts.”
We see here and elsewhere that the oldest name for the holiday is not “new year,” but “Yom Teruah,” the day of loud blasts, the shofar blasts. The shofar defines the day, which otherwise is like every other holy day of the Torah. So the shofar is important. It has a message for us. What is the shofar trying to tell us?
On Rosh Hashanah, the rabbis of the Talmud teach, the shofar trumpets to announce the re-coronation of the King, of God. We shake with fear and awe as we proclaim the Greatest Sovereign’s reign anew. They quote God telling us to recite before God on Rosh Hashanah “verses of Malchuyot, Zichronot, and Shofarot. Malchuyot (kingship) in order that you crown me over you; Zichronot (remembrance) in order that your remembrance should rise up before me for good; and with what? With shofar.” (RH 16a) There is authority, power, control.
The far away King, grand and stern. The trumpeting ceremony, the sovereignty. The Ruler deciding our fate. These become the meaning of the day and of the shofar. But what if these images are unrelatable? It makes the holiday unrelatable as well.
Today, I want to offer a different take on the shofar. It’s a counter text, a narrative of the holiday that is equally present in the texts and traditions of Rosh Hashanah, and yet is the very opposite of the far away king.