If we were asked what we associate with the day of Rosh Hashana, we would probably think in terms of the ritual obligation of the blowing of the shofar and of the broader philosphical implications of a day of judgement, the first of the Ten Days of Repentance. It is not readily apparent how these two – the ritual and the philosophical – are linked. What role do the t’kiot, the shofar-blasts, play in the broader theme of Rosh Hashana?
When we turn to the Biblical verses, the problem deepens. The verses never deal with the philosophical nature of Rosh Hashana and are obscure about even the very ritual obligation of blowing the shofar. We are not commanded to blow the shofar on this day, we are rather told: “A day of blasts you shall have for yourself” (Numbers 29:1), and that the day shall be “a rest-day, a rememberance of horn-blasts” (Leviticus 23:24). What a striking contrast to the holidays of Sukkot and Pesach! Why is the obligation here not as direct and personal as “In sukkot you shall dwell seven days” or “On that evening you shall eat matzot“? And why is the role of the tkiot not as explicit as “so that you shall remember that I caused the children of Israel to dwell in tents” or “because you left Egypt in haste”?
Perhaps the Torah felt no need to elaborate on the meaning of the tkiot because their meaning was obvious and well known. In fact, t’kiot appear in two other places in the Torah, in two seemingly unrelated and independant mitzvot, the mitzvah of the Jubilee year and the mitzvah for Moses to fashion trumpets. In the first case, the shofar blasts are connected with a proclamatoin of liberty and freedom: “and you shall sound the shofar of blasts … on the Day of Atonement you shall blast the shofar in all you lands, and you shall sanctify the fiftieth year, and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land, to all its inhabitants thereof” (Lev 25:9-10). The blowing of the shofar, thus, serves as a way of announcement and proclamation, and in the case of the Jubilee year, it is a procalmation of freedom. This theme is even more explicit by Moses’ trumpets. “Make for yourself two trumpets of silver … and they shall be for you to call the congregation and to move the camps. And you shall blow with them, and the entire camp shall assemble unto you by the opening of the Tent of Meeting. And if you shall blow with one of them, the princes , the heads of Israel, shall assemble unto you.” (Numbers 10:2-4). The tekiot, then, are a means of declaration, in one case of freedom, in another case of a call to assemblage. This, then, seems to be the nature of tekiot in the Torah.
Before returning to the tekiot of Rosh Hashana, however, we should be careful to distinguish between two different types of tekiot. The tekiot spoken of in the Jubilee year are actually teruot, broken, perhaps stacatto, blasts, while the tekiot of Moses are standard tekiot, long unbroken blasts. The verses spell out the difference: “And when you assemble the congregation you shall blow tekiot, and yuo shall not sound teruot… And when a war comes upon your land, [a war] upon the enemy which oppresses you, then you shall blow teruot with the trumpets … And in the days of your rejoicing and on your festivals and New Moons you shall blow tekiot with the trumpets on your burnt offerings and peace offerings…” (Leviticus 10:7-10). The tekiot are for assembly and for the holiday sacrifices, and the teruot are for moving the camps and fighting a war. How can we explain these differing functions?
It seems to me that the tekiot, with their unbroken, unified nature, serve to assemble the people and define them as one. The tekiot bring together all the diverse elements of the nation, all the millions of individuals, and unify them as one nation with one purpose. When the nation rejoices on its festivals it should be the rejoicing of the community, the rejoicing of a peope with their unified heritage before their God. The festival sacrifices are the sacrifices of the community a a whole, the one, unbroken community of the tekiot. The teruot, on the other hand, is the sharp stacatto call to action. It is not just the community as an abstract, conceptual entity, it is the communit acting, moving, pushing forward. It is the community moving to a new encampment, fighting its enemies, and defending its land. It is also the upheaval that preceeds the renewed calm of the Jubilee. It is the total topsy-turvey of slaves going free, of land returning to its owners of fifty years past, of a total societal reorginization, of a community mobilized to achieve a renewed social justice.
We can now understand the shofar-blasts of Rosh HaShana and why they do not feature as a private obligation. The shofar-blasts are a community-wide event, they unite and mobilize the community. On an individual plane their meaning is lost. And this meaning is a dual one. It is a meaning of tekiot and a meaning of teruot, because this day has a dual nature: it is a day of majesty and a day of judgement. As a day of judgement we come before God asking for forgiveness, that he view us favorably. As with our prayers throghout the year, we recognize that we cannot stand on our own personal merit. Only when we identify with the community at large, when we see ourselves as part of that community, can we hope for surfience from God. We individuals are part of Klal Yisrael, and as part of Klal Yisrael we we have an eternal bond, an eternal covenant, with God. This is the role of the tekiot of Rosh Hashana – to unfiy us, to define us as a community. But Rosh HaShana is also a day of teruot. A nation moved to action. We must do our part in this day; we cannot allow ourselves to be passive. As a day of majesty we must proclaim God’s rule, his greateness, and our acceptance of his yoke. The teruot must drive us to a Jubilee-like renewal, to a recnstructing of our lives, and of society, to the live up to the Torah’s ideals and to God’s majesty.
Let us pray that on this Rosh HaShana, as on past and future Rosh Hashanot, we can find it in our hearts to unite with the rest of Klal Yisrael, to both be and act as one people, so that God can find it in His heart to be mayzin umakshiv likol tikiyataynu – to listen and hear to the sound of our tekiot.