If there was one sound to encapsulate this late-summer season of reckoning and renewal, it would have to be the piercing cry of the shofar.
This ritual instrument, made from a ram’s horn, is absolutely vital to the months of Elul and Tishrei (the last month of the Hebrew calendar, and the first month of the new year). Throughout Elul, it’s traditional to hear the shofar blown every single day except Shabbat. And the shofar is so foundational to our High Holidays experience that the holiday of Rosh Hashanah used to be called Yom Teruah, the day of blasting the shofar.
But what does the sound of the shofar really mean?
How can it support you in your healing and understanding?
I’ve traveled the world with my three-foot shofar, and I’ll share just a few of its many, many meanings.
Crystal sound bowls, gongs, frequency-music, and talking about resonance are all so popular these days! As Nikola Tesla said, "If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration."
The secrets of self-improvement do seem to be found in sound! In fact the word "shofar" shares the root of the Hebrew word "lehiSHtaPeR," which means to improve. That's deep. No wonder we are meant to listen to the shofar repeatedly and to feel these sacred vibrations.
We have known about these resonant secrets of the Universe since Day 6 of Creation. Why? That is when Adam and Eve were created! The Kabbalah teaches that when G-d blew the breath of life into Adam/Eve, it actually made a sound — and that sound was the original shofar. Our very own bodies, when infused with the Breath of Life, make this holy resonant sound!
Here’s another note that dazzled me. When researching how the shofar is made, I came across this interview with shofar maker Maurice Kamins. He said, “As I’m sanding them, there’s a moment when the horn itself will start vibrating with the tone it will give once the horn is blown.”
I took this as a metaphor for our spiritual work! Sometimes, as we are being refined, we can catch glimpses of how we will look and feel on the other side of a healing process — and that inspires us to continue our work.
One of the favorite teachings of Jewish Yoga teachers is the idea that the very word for breath, neshima, is nearly identical to the word soul, neshama. We received and receive our souls, our life energy, through our breath — and we access connection with our souls in spiritual work through the breath. One is literally the key to the other. It's pretty mind-blowing.
And the way we wake up our souls for the New Year is by using that breath to make the shofar’s distinctive blasts, called tekiah, shevarim, and teruah.
What if we let the shofar inspire us to seriously ponder each breath we are granted? Have you ever thought about the fact that we can never actually take a breath, but we can only receive one? Have you contemplated what a gift it is each time we inhale and exhale?
The pinnacle event in Jewish history was G-d's sacred presence and the revelation of Divine Wisdom, the Torah, at Mount Sinai to approximately 3 million people. (We celebrate this every year on the holiday of Shavuot.)
One of the incredible phenomena during this drama was the sounding of a mysterious shofar. Exodus 19:19 reads, "As the sound of the shofar grew louder and louder, Moshe spoke; and God answered him with a Voice."
But even more incredible was this: "All the people saw the sounds and the lightning, the voice of the horn and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they fell back and stood at a distance" (Exodus 20:15, emphasis mine).
Many of the Chassidic masters interpret this to mean that there was a communal experience of synesthesia. What is that? According to the Scientific American Journal, synesthesia is an unusual blending of the senses — like hearing colors or tasting shapes.
To take it a step deeper: Seeing the sounds of the shofar was an indication of the blending not only of senses, but of all time and space. The four-letter name of G-d (the one we pronounce “Ado-nai”) is a combination of the Hebrew words for past, present, and future — haya, hoveh, and yihiyeh. We can take both of these as reminders of G-d’s Oneness — or in other words, the ultimate unity of all things. Although we humans maintain the illusion of separateness from each other, from nature, from the past and the future — on a deep level there is truly only Ultimate Unity.
One of the most important “rules” in manifestation is to notice any limiting beliefs. You can't manifest something if you don't believe it is possible. One of the incredible inherent messages of the shofar is hope and the idea that everything is possible!
Why? According to the Jewish tradition in Isaiah 27:13, the shofar will be blown, and heard all over the world, to announce the coming of the time of Redemption. What does this have to do with hope? The Future Era is that in which there will be peace in our hearts, world peace, total healing, love, understanding and joy!
Basically, anything you dream of manifesting will surely unfold for the good during that time. So hearing the shofar is actually a reminder that we are collectively manifesting this Great Day and this Great Era, and that there is hope for not only the whole world, but also for you! No limiting beliefs apply.
I hope these four deeper meanings can enrich your experience each and every time you hear the shofar!
At The Well uplifts many approaches to Jewish practice. Our community draws on ancient Jewish wisdom, sometimes adapting longstanding practices to more deeply support the well-being of women and nonbinary people. See this article’s sources below. We believe Torah (sacred teachings) are always unfolding to help answer the needs of the present moment.