Rabbi Eliezer Melamed
Rabbi Eliezer MelamedPR photo

It is a positive mitzva to hear the blast (teru’a) of a shofar on Rosh Ha-shana, as it says, “In the seventh month, on the first of the month…. You shall observe it as a day of blasts (yom teru’a)” (Bamidbar 29:1), and “In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe complete rest, a sacred occasion commemorated with loud blasts (zikhron teru’a)…” (Vayikra 23:24).

The primary theme of the prayers on Rosh Ha-shana is crowning God as our king. For this reason, the third berakha of the Amida concludes with “ha-Melekh ha-kadosh” (the holy King) instead of the usual “ha-Kel ha-kadosh” (the holy God). This change is so significant that if one forgets to make it, and concludes with “the holy God,” he has not fulfilled his obligation and must repeat the Amida (SA 582:1; 5:2 below).

The conclusion of the holiday-themed fourth berakha in every Amida as well as in kiddush on Rosh Ha-shana is: “King over all the earth, Who sanctifies Israel and the Day of Remembrance.” The conclusion of the holiday-themed fourth berakha in every Amida as well as in kiddush on Rosh Ha-shana is: “King over all the earth, Who sanctifies Israel and the Day of Remembrance.”

In Musaf, the main prayer of Rosh Ha-shana, during which we blow the shofar, our Sages instituted three central berakhot, each of which comprises an entire section of the Amida: Malkhuyot, Zikhronot, and Shofarot.Malkhuyot, the first of these berakhot, is the foremost of these berakhot and mentions the holiness of the day. It, too, concludes: “King over all the earth, Who sanctifies Israel and the Day of Remembrance.”

We see that the primary theme of Yom Ha-zikaron is crowning God as King. In truth, Zikhronot also relates to God as the King of the world, Who remembers all of His creations. Similarly, Shofarot deals with the manifestation of His kingship in the world by means of the shofar. This is both reminiscent of Sinai and a foreshadowing of the future, for it is the blowing of a great shofar that will gather all the exiles, who will then bow before God in Jerusalem. Our shofar blasts manifest His kingship as well; due to the dread they instill, we stand before Him broken and repentant.

The Privilege to Accept His Kingship

How fortunate we are that we are privileged to have the King of kings, the Almighty rule over us. Because there is no person who does not have a king; some are slaves to people, some are slaves to their lusts, such as the lust for money or honor, and some are slaves to higher values, such as justice, goodness and truth.

Then there are those who are privileged to have God reign over them, the source of life and all values. In this way, they can be freed from any kind of slavery, reveal their full talents, and participate with God in adding goodness and blessing to the world.

Great and Wavering Faith

Admittedly, in the wavering concept of emunah (faith), the more a person believes in God and makes Him king over himself – the more he is diminished, filled with anxiety and fears to act in the world and correct it, and begs God as a poor son and a lowly servant. This wavering emunah makes him cowardly and softhearted. Admittedly, this type of emunah is also necessary, because this fear of Heaven serves as a fence against man’s desires that are liable to erupt in murderous cruelty and all sorts of abhorrence and vileness. When people “managed to free themselves” from emunah (such as in the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany), they murdered many more people than during the period when faith was present in their lives.

Fundamentally, however, man desires to reveal his powers, the powers that God has planted in him. That is why he wishes to free himself from the wavering emunah that diminishes the image of God within him, to an “elevated emunah” that strengthens his soul and powers. At this level, the crowning of God does not weaken a person, but rather gives inspiration and meaning to his life, and raises him to a level of courage and creativity that cannot be achieved without emunah (see Middot Ha’Raya, Emunah, 29).

Teki’a and Teru’a

There are two types of sounds for the shofar – teki’a and teru’a. While teki’a expresses joy and stability, teru’a alludes to brokenness, fear, tears, and radical change. Similarly, God instructed the Israelites in the desert to blow a teki’a on the trumpets when they needed to gather the people, as teki’a expresses joy and togetherness. In contrast, when they needed to go out to war or leave their encampment and move on, they were instructed to blow a teru’a (Bamidbar 10:1-7), for a teru’a represents brokenness, tears over that which is finished but imperfect, and apprehension about what comes next.

The word “teru’a” denotes brokenness. Thus, we read, “Smash them (tero’em) with an iron mace; shatter them like potter’s ware” (Tehilim 2:9). The word “tero’em” means breaking. Similarly, we read, “The earth is breaking, breaking (ro’a hitro’a’a). The earth is crumbling, crumbling. The earth is tottering, tottering” (Yeshayahu 24:19). It also says, “They shall lay waste (ve-ra’u) to the land of Assyria with the sword” (Micha 5:5), meaning they will smash the land of Assyria (Rashi). Similarly, Onkelos translates “yom teru’a” as “a day of wailing.”

The Meaning of the Teru’a on Rosh Ha-shanah

Rosh Hashana is called the “Day of Remembrance” (Yom Hazikaron), because on this day God remembers His creations and renews their life for the upcoming year. The term “zikaron” (remembrance) in reference to God means that He comes to someone’s aid and grants them life. So that His kindness is not turned into wickedness by wicked people who would use it for evil, God ordained that blessing would be granted based on one’s deeds throughout the year. If one chooses good, he merits a shefa (abundance) of goodness and blessing, whereas if he chooses evil (God forbid), the shefa of goodness is minimized, and the person consequently suffers much grief and pain.

We see, therefore, that Rosh Ha-shana is a day of remembrance and judgment; God sits on His throne of judgment and appraises His world, judging each person individually and each nation collectively.

That is why Rosh Hashanah is called yom teru’a, because the teru’a alludes to mourning, crying and anxiety; brokenness and weeping over what was finished and not completed, and anxiousness for the next stage, which has not yet been determined who will live and who will die, who will enjoy tranquility, and who will suffer.

Therefore, even though the sound of a teru’a is of short duration, the day in its entirety is referred to as yom teru’a – a day of brokenness and tears, fear and apprehension.

However, the teru’a on Rosh Hashanah is intended to awaken us to repentance and to raise us; therefore, the day of teru’a is also a holiday, on which it is a mitzvah to hold festive meals, because the purpose of everything is correction and joy.

Teki’a, Teru’a, Teki’a

Based on a close reading of the verses, our Sages inferred an obligation to hear three teru’ot on Rosh Hashana, each one of which must be preceded and followed by a teki’a. The Torah commandment is to hear three sets of teki’ateru’a-teki’a (Rosh Hashana 32b, 34a).

Even though Rosh Hashana is referred to as Yom Teru’a because of the judgment and trembling inspired by the teru’a, we still blow a teki’a before and after the teru’a. This is because, like the positive teki’a, judgment’s goals are positive: to distance us from evil, to lead us to self-improvement, and to grant us ultimate reward (Rabbeinu Baḥya, Kad Ha-kemaḥ, Rosh Ha-shana 2; Akeidat Yitzḥak, Sha’ar 67).

The first teki’a of each set expresses the natural uprightness of the soul, as that of small children who have yet to sin and who are still innocent and pure. As a child matures, though, he is exposed to the complexities and dilemmas of this world; he struggles and is tested; he fails and sins. This is expressed by the teru’a, sighing or crying about our character defects and the sins to which we have succumbed.

After this, another simple teki’a completes the set. It again expresses goodness and rectitude, but this time it is the goodness that follows repentance and asking forgiveness. Thus, each blast expresses a different part of life: the positive beginning, the struggle with life’s challenges, and the concluding corrective. At the end of all the blasts, the custom is to blow a particularly long teki’a, expressing the ultimate corrective, when all struggling and suffering is over. (See Shlah, Masekhet Rosh Ha-shana, Torah Or §55.)

Shevarim and Teru’a – a Lever for Rectification and Joy

If we delve further, we find that the shevarim and teru’a are the principal lever for growth. Because one of the dangers lurking for a person is that he will remain in the same place and not progress and be renewed, and instead, will fade away and lose his life. In order for this not to happen, God commanded us to hear the blowing of the shofar every year, to become aware of the cracks and weaknesses in human life, and in our own lives. So that instead of sinking into the routine and losing altitude – we will take stock, arise, and be encouraged for another year of elevation and creativity. Hence, the most profound joy.

The Correction – To Accept His Kingdom

Given our anxiety about the upcoming year, we could have devoted the entire Day of Judgment to personal prayers for livelihood, health, and everything else that preoccupies people all year. However, the Jews are unique in that their deeper desire is for God’s kingship to be manifest and for the whole world to be repaired and redeemed, even if they will need to suffer to attain that goal.

This is the great, awe-inspiring path that the Jewish people have chosen, from the times of our patriarchs and matriarchs, who chose to believe in God despite all the idolatry around them, through the long exile when, despite all their suffering, the Jewish people chose not to assimilate, and instead, continued to carry the banner of faith and Torah, to establish the world under the kingship of God.

A person who devotes the main part of his prayer to personal requests – enslaves himself to his own ambitions, crowning them upon himself, while Israel, who desires to bring blessing to the world and its redemption – crowns God over themselves.

When the Jewish people set aside their sorrows and work for God’s honor and the manifestation of His kingship, God says to the angels, “Look at My dear children, who leave their troubles aside and work for My honor.” This silences the accuser (satan), who wishes to rid the world of the Jews. Thus, Israel is granted a new year in which they will take another step toward repair and redemption. The more we humbly accept God’s rule with fear, joy, and trembling on Rosh Hashana, the better and more blessed a year we will experience.

The Chosen People

The primary judgment of the world hinges on the Jewish people and Eretz Yisrael, as the Jews are God’s people, the heart of the world, upon whom the repair of the world depends. Accordingly, the reward and punishment of the Jews is greater than that of other nations. God therefore judges the Jews first, and the judgment of humanity and the world in general is an outgrowth of this judgment (Rosh Hashana 8a-b; Ta’anit 10a).

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.