Shofar and Memory- A Conversation Starter
A central mitzvah (commandment) of Rosh Hashanah is the blowing of the shofar. The sound of the shofar, a ram's horn that is played like a trumpet, is a defining symbol of the festival and evokes strong memories for many people.
Shana Tova, Germany, 1904, National Library of Israel
  • Compare the postcard illustration to the shofar blowing service at your synagogue. What is the same? What is different?
Shofar in the Torah
The verse below describes the observance of Rosh Hashanah, which is commemorated by blowing the shofar. Two main aspects of Rosh Hashanah, remembering and sounding the shofar, are mentioned in this verse.
דַּבֵּ֛ר אֶל־בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל לֵאמֹ֑ר בַּחֹ֨דֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִ֜י בְּאֶחָ֣ד לַחֹ֗דֶשׁ יִהְיֶ֤ה לָכֶם֙ שַׁבָּת֔וֹן זִכְר֥וֹן תְּרוּעָ֖ה מִקְרָא־קֹֽדֶשׁ׃
Speak to Bnei Yisroel, saying; in the seventh month, on the first of the month, shall be for you a [day of] rest. A remembrance of the sounding [of the shofor], a holy assembly.
  • What is your earliest memory of hearing the shofar? Where were you? What do you remember about that day?
  • What do you think is the connection between memory and the sound of the shofar? What does the sound of the shofar remind you of?
Shofar in the Talmud
The following text is from the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Rosh Hashanah.
Rabbi Abbahu asks why a shofar is made from a ram's horn. His answer presents a rather surprising explanation for the purpose of sounding the shofar.
אמר רבי אבהו למה תוקעין בשופר של איל אמר הקדוש ברוך הוא תקעו לפני בשופר של איל כדי שאזכור לכם עקידת יצחק בן אברהם ומעלה אני עליכם כאילו עקדתם עצמכם לפני
Similarly, Rabbi Abbahu said: Why does one sound a blast with a shofar made from a ram’s horn on Rosh HaShana? The Holy One, Blessed be He, said: Sound a blast before Me with a shofar made from a ram’s horn, so that I will remember for you the binding of Isaac, son of Abraham, in whose stead a ram was sacrificed, and I will ascribe it to you as if you had bound yourselves before Me.
  • According to Rabbi Abbahu, the shofar blast is meant as a reminder to God. What will God be reminded of? Do you think that God needs a reminder? Once He is reminded, what will happen?
  • For whose benefit do you think we blow the shofar? For us? For God? For both? Explain your answer.
  • How do you feel when you hear the shofar? Do the sounds of the shofar connect you to Rosh Hashanah or teshuva (repentance)? What do you think of when you hear the shofar?