This article from the synagogue bulletin of K.A.M. Isaiah Israel Congregation in Chicago appears in Moments of Transcendence: Inspirational Readings for Rosh Hashanah, edited by Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins, (
Birth is noisy. Often it is a piercing, shrieking noise that announces the new. In various cultures, the sounds of the rhythm of life and its transitions are celebrated by the percussion of drum beating, horn blowing, cymbal clashing, the ringing of bells, organized cheering and chanting, firecrackers and firing of guns. Sharp and persistent noises heighten the human sense of drama, and facilitate communication with the power and awe of the supernatural. Recently, after 5 hours of climbing I stood at 13,000 feet in the cold, thin air and desolate, rock-strewn landscape atop a glacier covered peak in the Rocky Mountains. The enveloping sounds were incessant and deafening. It is an uncanny wind that blows at the top of the world.
The shofar blows and we listen, not to think about a pattern of symbols, but rather to experience hearing one of the original and uncanny sounds of historical Jewish life. It is not a pretty sound, one that pleases genteel or even trained ears. To listen to this shrill blast disturbs our senses so that we might respond to deeply felt realities of admonition and warning. Jewish worship is expressed by the mouth and caught by the ear, not managed by the eye reading silently on the handheld page. Silent reading is only a little more than a century old.
Listen then to the noise of the shofar. Perceive the manual labor required to blow it, hear its messy pitch, and feel it speaking about the birth of our world.
Pronounced: sho-FAR or SHO-far, Origin: Hebrew, a ram’s horn that is sounded during the month of Elul, on Rosh Hashanah, and on Yom Kippur. It is mentioned numerous times in the Bible, in reference to its ceremonial use in the Temple and to its function as a signal-horn of war.