“‘On the first day of the seventh month hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work. It is a day for you to sound the trumpets.’”Numbers 29:1

Jews around the world are entering the most holy time on the Jewish calendar, the High Holy Days. Beginning with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and ending ten days later with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, this season is marked by intense reflection and repentance. This is one of 18 devotions focused on this holy season, exploring its meaning and the many lessons we can learn from this biblically mandated observance. To learn more, download our free study on the shofar, ram’s horn, that ushers in this holy season.

Rosh Hashanahis identified in the Bible as “a day for you to sound the trumpets.” Indeed, Rosh Hashanah has become known for the object that symbolizes it the most: the trumpet, or in Hebrew, the shofar. The shofar has several different meanings, and together they comprise the essence of this most sacred day.

Over the course of Rosh Hashanah, the shofar is sounded in three different ways. The tekiah blast is one long sound. The shevarim blast is comprised of three slightly shorter notes. And the teruah blast contains nine, staccato-like, short blasts blown in quick succession of each other. The three different ways of blowing the shofar symbolize the three messages that we need to understand on the days on which it is blown.

The long singular tekiah blast reminds us of royalty. When a king enters a place, trumpets sound to signal his presence. Similarly, on Rosh Hashanah, the King of the world is present. Every year, on Rosh Hashanah, we coronate our King all over again. We recognize that the Lord, our God, is King, and we acknowledge His dominion over the world. Message number one is that God, and God alone, rules the world.

Message number two is represented by the three-part shevarim sound, closely resembling the sound of weeping. This distinct blast reminds us that our lives, and everything that we hold dear to us, hang by a single thread held by the Master of the universe. In the blink of an eye, it could all disappear. That’s why we cry. Yet our brokenness leads us to wholeness when we pray to God, asking that He bless us for yet another year. We remember that He is our loving Father and that He will answer our prayers.

The final message, the nine, short teruah blasts, are reminiscent of an alarm clock, and their purpose is to awake us from our slumber. All year long, we are caught up in the humdrum of life. We begin to forget the purpose of it all. Once a year we make it a point to wake up and remember that we are here for a specific purpose. During the High Holy Days, we reassess our lives and make any necessary changes.

Together, the three distinct types of shofar sounds bring us to a deep understanding of this holiday. Rosh Hashanah literally means the “head of the year” because it is on that day that we define which way our year is headed. When we recognize that God is the King who directs our lives and we adjust our lives to reflect that truth, we will have set the New Year in the right direction.

Learn more about the traditions and rituals associated with Rosh Hashanah in this free issue of our Bible study series, Limmud (“study” in Hebrew), “Shofar: The Sounds of Repentance.”

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