FAQs – Shofar


Rabbi Hayim Asher Arking 

Rabbi Ezra Ghodsi 

Regarding the shofar on Rosh Hashana, the Rambam writes that it alludes to a critical message: "Awaken from your slumber; those who sleep deeply, rouse yourselves from your stupor. Examine your actions, repent, and remember your Creator. Those who have forgotten the truth…… Look into your souls and better your ways and deeds, abandon one's evil ways and bad thoughts."

The halachot surrounding the performance of this cherished mitzvah – shofar – that we will outline, should enable us to have the full effect of reigniting our souls to the highest level of repentance. 

Who is obligated? 

Being that Shofar is a time-bound commandment, women are not obligated to hear the Shofar. However, because of the significance of this mitsvah and its resounding message, many women have developed the custom to hear the shofar. Since their obligation is not absolute, one who is blowing shofar exclusively for women, should not recite a beracha before blowing. 

How many blasts is one obligated to hear?

When the Torah discusses the blowing of the shofar, the word teruah is written three times. It definitely resembles some sort of cry; perhaps it is a sound of short groans – what we call shevarim; or a sound of a wailing cry – what we call teruah; or both – shevarim-teruah

The Gemara derives from other pesukim that a tekiah (straight blast) must be blown before and after each teruah. This essentially teaches us that we must hear thirty teruah blasts on Rosh Hashana as follows: 

Tekiah – Shevarim-Teruah – Tekiah X3;

Tekiah – Shevarim – Tekiah X3;

Tekiah – Teruah – Tekiah X3;

Total = 30

Why do we blow more than thirty blasts?

The Gemara teaches: Why do we blow some tekiot while sitting and then many more while standing? So, it should bring confusion to the Satan as he sees how beloved are the mitsvot to us. Alternatively, it is explained that when the Satan hears the second blowing he does not know if perhaps it is the day of the final redemption when the shofar will be blown.

When do we blow the Shofar? 

This first set of thirty is initially blown with the berachot while seated before the Amidah. We blow this first set of tekiot before the Torah is returned to the Hechal while standing next to the Torah. The reason for this custom is to invoke the merit of receiving the Torah which took place with blasts of the Shofar. As it is written (Shemot 19:16) "And behold the sound of the Shofar went and strengthened". 

The rest of the blasts are integrated with the tefillah of Musaf. The second set of thirty is blown during the silent Amidah; ten tekiot at each segment. The third set of thirty is blown during the hazarah of the tefillah, ten with each segment. 

Initially, the shofar was blown during the prayer of Shaharit. However, in the era of the Mishna, gentiles made a decree forbidding the blowing of the shofar. They would stay around the Jews for the entire morning of Rosh Hashana until midday, which is the latest time for Shaharit, to ensure that the shofar would not be blown. The Rabbis, therefore, moved the shofar blowing to Musaf, which can be prayed even after noon. Ever since then, we have kept the shofar blowing in the Musaf prayer. It is integrated specifically for the three segments of Musaf as the Shofar relates to each segment. 

Why is the shofar also blown after mussaf?

We blow another ten blasts during the kaddish that follows the Amidah to bring us to a total of one hundred blasts. This degree of crying represents the ultimate expression of a heartfelt cry as we see from the story of the mother of Sisera. In the era of the Judges after we entered the Land of Israel there was a period when we were oppressed by the Canaanim. Sisera, their powerful general, came to attack with nine hundred chariots. It was assumed that he would return victorious and his mother as usual was waiting, looking out the window to greet his return from war. When he did not return she rationalized "Perhaps he is dividing the loot". However, as time passed, she came to the realization that Sisera must have been killed. The pasuk describes the crying for her son by the root word – yevava – again and again totaling 100 times. This word – yevava – is the translation of the word teruah as Onkelos writes on the aforementioned passuk in the Torah.

There is one more teruah gedola added before Alenu to confuse the Satan

Why is the shofar covered before it is blown?

The shofar should be covered until the berachot are finished. Some reasons for this minhag are: 

  1. When Abraham was preparing the altar to sacrifice his son Yishak, he kept Yishak covered until the very last moment, because he feared that Yishak would receive a blemish rendering him unfit to be offered. Being that shofar is a remembrance of the Akedah we cover the shofar until the very last moment. 
  2. To prevent the Satan from taking control of the shofar. 

Do I sit or stand during the blowing? 

The one blowing the shofar needs to stand just as we do by all mitsvot, however, the congregation remains seated during the first set of blasts. Some have the custom to stand while the berachot are recited and then immediately sit for the shofar blasts, most communities, however, sit during the berachot as well. 

What do I think about while the Shofar is being blown? 

First and foremost, one must have in mind that he is fulfilling the commandment of the Torah of hearing the Shofar. Secondly one should bear in mind confession and renewed commitment to listen to the Word of Hashem.

Rav Saadia Gaon writes ten important ideas regarding the meaning of the shofar

  1. On Rosh Hashana, Hashem completed the creation of the world and reigned as King over it. It is customary for kings to announce their kingship with trumpets and horns. We, therefore, blow the Shofar on Rosh Hashana to show that we are accepting the Kingship of Hashem. 
  2. Rosh Hashana is the first of the Ten Days of Repentance. We blow the shofar to arouse everyone to do teshuva
  3. We remember the giving of the Torah at Har Sinai, which was accompanied by shofar blasts. Essentially we are recommitting to all of the mitsvot and accepting upon ourselves as we had originally with na'ase v'nishma – we will perform and we will listen. 
  4. To remind us of the words of the Prophets that are compared to a shofar. 
  5. To remind us of the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash and the wailing sound of war cries. When we hear the shofar, we will request Hashem to bring the Bet Hamikdash. 
  6. To remember Yishak Avinu who was willing to give his life to be sacrificed; we too will accept upon ourselves to give our lives for the sake of Hashem. 
  7. The shofar causes us to be afraid, tremble, and break in front of Hashem. 
  8. To remember the great day of judgement which will take place with shofar blasts. 
  9. To remind us of and inspire us to yearn for the ingathering of the exiles which will take place with shofar blasts. 
  10. To remind us of the resurrection of the dead which will take place with shofar blasts.

Can I speak during Musaf? 

From the beginning of the shofar blasts until after the hundredth blast, one should not speak of matters not related to the mitsvah at hand. One who uses the restroom in between may still recite the blessing of Asher Yasar

What if I came late? 

If one missed the berachot he should recite the berachot when he arrives before hearing the shofar. If one missed already some blasts of the shofar, he should listen to where the congregation is up to, keep count, and make up the remaining missing blasts after. 

I am blowing for someone at home, which Berachot do I recite? 

If one is blowing for a man or boy over the age of bar-misvah, either the one blowing or the one listening recites two berachot. On the first day: 1. Lishmoa Kol Shofar; and 2. Shehehiyanu; and on the second day, just the first beracha is recited. If the person did not hear the shofar on the first day, Shehehiyanu will be recited on the second day. When blowing for women, no berachot are recited.

When blowing for someone at home, it is preferable for them to stand.

May the zechut of Shofar bring the sounds of the Shofar of the Final Redemption. 

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