Decoding the Shofar

Here's how the shofar sounds were interpreted in a classic text more than 1,000 years ago.

Print this page Print this page

This article, which offers ten interpretations of the meaning of the shofar, is reprinted with permission from Moments of Transcendence: Inspirational Readings for Rosh Hashanah, edited by Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins (Jason Aronson).

1. The sound of the shofar is analogous to the trumpet-blasts that announce the coronation of a king. On Rosh Hashanah, God created the world and assumed the role of its Sovereign, and in the sounding of the shofar we acknowledge Him as our King. 

2. Rosh Hashanah is the first of the Ten Days of Penitence, and the shofar is sounded to stir our conscience, to confront our past errors and return to God, who is ever ready to welcome the penitent.

3. The shofar is reminiscent of God's revelation at Sinai, which was accompanied by the sounding of a shofar. It thus reminds us of our destiny--to be a people of Torah, to pursue its study and to practice its commandments.

4. The sound of the shofar is reminiscent of the exhortations of the prophets whose voices rang out like a shofar in denouncing their people's wrong-doing, and in calling them to the service of God and man.
5. The shofar reminds us of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, and it calls us to strive for Israel's renewal in freedom and in fellowship with God. 

A man wearing a tallit (prayer shawl) blows the shofar.

Photo credit: Jack Hazut, JHM Photography

 6. The shofar, which is a ram's horn, reminds us of the ram that Abraham offered as a sacrifice in place of his son Isaac. It thus reminds us of the heroic faith of the fathers of our people who exemplified to us the highest devotion to God, of which man is capable.

7. The shofar summons us to the feeling of humility before God's majesty and might, which are manifested by all things and by which our own lives are constantly surrounded.

8. The shofar is a reminder of the Day of the Final Judgment, calling upon all people and all nations to prepare for God's scrutiny of their deeds.

9. The shofar foreshadows the jubilant proclamation of freedom, when Israel's exiled and homeless are to return to the Holy Land. It calls us to believe in Israel's deliverance at all times and under all circumstances.

10. The shofar foreshadows the end of the present world order and the inauguration of God's reign of righteousness throughout the world, with a regenerated Israel leading all people in acknowledging that God is One and His name One.

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Saadia be Yosef carried the title Gaon, given to spiritual leaders of Babylonian Jewry. Saadia Gaon was head of the Sura yeshiva in Babylonia, and is considered to be the greatest scholar of his age. He translated the Bible into Arabic, standardized a prayer book for Jews living in the Arab world, and is best known for his philosophical explanation of Judaism, The Book of Belief and Opinions (Sefer Emunot ve-De'ot).