MitzvotRosh Hashanah

How the Sounds of the Shofar Rectify Our Psyche



On Rosh Hashanah, we rectify our souls by hearing the sounds of the shofar. To fulfill this mitzvah, the only requirement is to listen to the sound of the shofar. The sound of the shofar, which is likened to a voice, has a detailed and intimate message for the soul. This sound conveys its message to the soul's very root. The listener has no direct grasp on the meaning of the message. From the soul root, the message penetrates into the psyche of the listener, and rectifies all the powers of his soul.

How the Shofar Rectifies the Super-conscious Powers of the Soul

From the root of the soul, the voice of the shofar first reaches the superconscious powers of the soul: faith (emunah), pleasure (ta'anug) and will (ratzon).

Strengthening Faith (Emunah)

A concept that cannot be understood intellectually is actually directed at the power of faith in the soul. For this reason, we learn from many tzaddikim that one should continue to teach Torah even to a person who does not visibly understand. His soul understands, and the Torah penetrates his being and strengthens his pure and simple faith in God. The simple sound of the shofar reaches out to this power of faith, which is equal in all Jews.

Revealing Pleasure (Ta'anug)

The simple song of the shofar – the crown and root of all musical instruments — has the power to awaken and reveal the simple pleasure of the soul. There is a constant dimension of pleasure in the soul derived from its connection to God. This unvarying dimension of pleasure allows the Jew to "float" above life's difficulties, and to serenely approach his service of God with inner joy. This pleasure is the involvement of the Jew in God's experience of pleasure in Creation, and His manifestation in Creation. It is the root of his willingness to play a role on the "stage" of Creation, to descend to reality and to actualize the will of God. The voice of the shofar reveals this pleasure, and gives power to the soul to serve God throughout the changes and transformations of the year.

Balancing Will (Ratzon)

The power of will in the soul has a direct affect on one's conscious function. This power often suffers from dispersion between the person's varied and sometimes disparate goals. This dispersion of will is a negative phenomenon, even if the goals of the will are not negative. The potency of the will to achieve certain goals and the inability to actualize them completely may cause sharp mood swings and even depression. Listening (ha'azanah in Hebrew, whose root means "balance") to the shofar should give rise to a balanced will. For a Jew, balanced will does not mean suppression of his great ambitions, but rather helps him to prioritize his goals, thus making them more accessible. The voice of the shofar concentrates and enlightens this will. When his goals are clarified, a person can pursue his greatest initiatives and challenges in a balanced and rectified manner.

How the Shofar Rectifies the Intellectual Powers of the Soul

When the voice of the shofar penetrates the intellectual powers of the soul – chochmah (wisdom), binah (understanding) and da'at (knowledge) — it awakens the powers that direct the person's behavior throughout the entire year.

Evaluate the Situation — Chochmah

The voice of the shofar has the potential to enliven the listener's power of insight, associated with chochmah. This insight enables him to correctly perceive and evaluate his spiritual situation. (The insight of chochmah stems from the feeling of the pleasure of Shabbat in the soul. It is this serenity that affords one the ability to accurately perceive reality.) On a deeper level, the power of Jewish insight is the power of Israel to testify to the Truth and Unity of G-d.

Repent — Binah

One of the most simple goals of the shofar is to awaken the listener to repentance (as a result of his proper contemplation — hitbonenut — from the same root as binah) on his sorry state of distance from God. Repentance, teshuvah, and return to a close connection with God depend on the strengthening of faith. The essential bond of the soul, bound by a covenant to God even when a person descends into sin — must be strengthened. This experience awakens one to repent and awakens hope in the soul.

Balanced Decision Making — Da'at

After proper evaluation of one's situation and the subsequent desire to repent, balanced decision making tools are necessary in order to proceed in reality. A judge of reality must be expert in deciphering the contradictory themes of a given situation or concept. The voice of the shofar gives one this sense of proper balance, which stems from the balanced superconscious will in the soul. The first letters of the words of the blessing recited before hearing the shofar, 'Lishmo'ah Kol Shofar' are shin, kuf, lamed, the root of the word for 'balance.'

How the Shofar Rectifies the Emotive Powers of the Soul

The voice of the shofar penetrates the emotive powers of the soul, Chesed (lovingkindness), Gevurah (fortitude) and Tiferet (beauty), and rectifies the experience of the heart in relation to both general reality and specifically, to the Nation of Israel.

Positive Perception — Chesed

The shofar reminds us that all that was created in the world is "very good" (Genesis 1:31) — even those things that we perceive as "bad." This positive perception of reality strengthens the listener's power of chesed, lovingkindness. (The blessing recited before the sounding of the shofar is the square of the numerical value of "very good.")

Courage to Turn the World Upside Down — Gevurah

On a simple plane, the shofar awakens fear. The inner dimension of Gevurah is fear of heaven. The shofar awakens rectified fear of heaven. A person who truly fears G-d fears nothing else, and is a courageous and tireless soldier in His "army." This rectified fear of heaven provides a person with the courage and daring to turn the world upside down to bring the redemption.

The Unity of Israel — Tiferet

The simple sound of the shofar also enlivens in the soul the sense of the love of Israel. If the mitzvah of shofar were to understand the inner message of the sounds, this would create various levels of Jews according to their cognitive talents. However, by fulfilling the mitzvah of simply hearing the voice of the shofar, the entire tapestry of souls of Israel shines equally.

How the Shofar Rectifies the Powers of Action in the Soul

The shofar penetrates the behavioral powers of the soul, Netzach (victory) and Hod (acknowledgement), yesod (foundation), and malchut (kingdom) energizing them and giving them focus.

Advance — Netzach and Hod

Our Sages teach that an injury to the ear is life threatening. This points to the fact that simple hearing relates to the very life force of the person. The sound of the shofar that penetrates the behavioral characteristics of the soul causes the listener to advance toward the very essence of God, without any prior contemplation or study. This super-rational advance toward G-d is accomplished by the "two legs" of the powers of the soul — Netzach and Hod — the powers of steadfast, simple and devoted walking.

Vitality — Yesod

Hearing the shofar awakens in the soul the power to serve G-d with vitality and exuberance.

Reflected Light — Malchut

Rabbi Nachman of Breslov explains that when a person attempts to reproach another, and the listener does not accept his words, the words return as "reflected light" to the speaker. This creates an opportunity for the speaker to find the right words to penetrate the soul of the listener as direct and inner light. Hence, when we do not understand the deep content of the sound of the shofar, the light of the shofar is reflected back to Heaven. Subsequently, we merit to draw down from Heaven the inner content of what we have heard.

Click here to learn more about the mitzvot of the month of Tishrei

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