The Shofar (the ram’s horn blown on the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana) was used as a clarion call at specific moments throughout the Bible. One of the prominent places the Shofar appears is to alert Israel to the Jubilee Year: “You shall count for yourself seven cycles of sabbatical years… and you shall sound a broken blast of the Shofar, in the seventh month on the tenth of the month, on the Day of Atonement you shall sound the Shofar throughout your land. You shall sanctify the fiftieth year and proclaim freedom throughout the land for all its inhabitants. It shall be the Jubilee year for you, you shall return each man to his ancestral heritage and you shall return each man to his family.” Leviticus (25:8-10)
Once every forty-nine years, on the tenth day of the seventh month, Shofars were to be blown everywhere in the Land of Israel. The fiftieth year is considered a year that is sacred, a time of freedom and celebration as all property reverted back to its original owner and slaves were set free. But what is the deeper connection between the sound of the Shofar and the call to freedom?
In order to answer that question, we must take a step back. As humans, we distinguish ourselves from animals through our ability to speak. But before we even open our mouths, we use forethought as we begin stringing words together to express thoughts, ideas and observations and craft sentences that have meaning and purpose. However, because we think first, human speech is somewhat removed from our very deepest thoughts and emotions. We often craft our words in such a way that they no longer accurately express what lies deep within to protect ourselves from vulnerable exposure.
There is one form of communication that comes from a place so deep within our souls that words cannot easily manipulate or control. Crying bursts forth involuntarily when we are touched to the very core of our being as a result of shock, tragedy or joy. Crying is the primal voice of the soul that bursts through to the surface.
The sound of the Shofar represents the human cry. Each note signifies a different emotion and the Shofar is meant to penetrate the deep recesses of a person’s soul and spiritually express the thoughts and feelings that words alone cannot describe.
What is it about the sound of the Shofar that elicits such a response? One of the basic concepts of Judaism is that the inner will of every soul is to connect with God in the deepest way possible. This desire does not always manifest itself readily because of a wall of resistance created by the evil inclination that inhibits the heart from breaking through. It is the blast of the Shofar that breaks down this wall. Like the fortifications surrounding Jericho, the Shofar cuts through all obstructions and frees us to do what is truly in our hearts – to love and connect with God. That freedom is fully expressed on Rosh Hashana, the day in which we are so acutely aware of our inner selves that no power or force can interfere with.
There is therefore no more appropriate way to announce the Jubilee Year, when all slaves were released, than with the clarion call of the Shofar. The instrument which liberates our soul from its shackles each year on Rosh Hashana has an unparalleled ability to inspire and is therefore the perfect way to “proclaim freedom throughout the land for all its inhabitants.”
by Rabbi Tuly Weisz
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