“The great shofar is sounded. A still small voice is heard. This day, even the angels are alarmed, seized with fear and trembling as they declare: ‘The day of judgment is here!'”
In a loud and trumpeting voice, the cantor describes the shofar’s blast, then softly and gently describes a “still, small voice.” This poignant line from the Musaf (“additional”) service sets a tone for the High Holidays. It is a dichotomy that is played out over and over throughout the liturgy of the Days of Awe. On these days, we sing of the king, judge, and awesome sovereign who sits in judgment over us, while at the same time, we appeal to God’s mercy and longstanding tradition of forgiveness, likening God to a shepherd sheltering a flock.
A man blows the shofar during Rosh Hashanah services. Photo credit: Jack Hazut, JHM Photography.
The structure of the morning service on Rosh Hashanah is similar to weekday and Shabbat services. It is, however, additional piyyutim (liturgical poems) such as L’eyl Orekh Din (“to the God who sits in judgment”) or Adonai Melekh (“Adonai is King”) that evoke the seriousness with which we would approach a trial with the true judge.
The Torah reading on Rosh Hashanah is from the story of Isaac’s birth, describing God’s kindness in giving a child to Abraham and Sara in their old age (Genesis 21). On the second day we read the story of the binding of Isaac, which ends with a ram as a substitute for Isaac (Genesis 22). The shofar that is so prominent on Rosh Hashanah is considered to be symbolic of this ram.
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