MitzvotRosh Hashanah

The Sound of Teru'ah


"Happy are the people that know the trumpet (shofar) call (te'ruah); O' God, in the light of Your countenance they shall walk" (Psalms 89:16).

This verse, recited directly after the shofar blowing on Rosh HaShanah, is explained by the Ba'al Shem Tov as follows: The epitome of spiritual work is a broken heart; the perfected manner of spiritual service is that of walking humbly (with God). Happy are the people who know the te'ruah–who know how to shout for joy (which in Hebrew is a permutation of the word te'ruah), as they break their inflated sense of separate existence ("ego"). Inwardly their heart is broken, but outwardly they are joyous, as they have merited to be true servants of God. "O' God–the Supernal One," they request, "in the light of Your countenance they shall walk." Wherever they may be, let them bask in the light of Your countenance.

The Baal Shem Tov renders te'ruah as referring to the breaking (as in l'roe'a, "to break") of one's inflated "ego" and haughtiness. Similarly, the Chassidic interpretation of the verse (Psalms 98:4): "Make a joyful noise (ha'ri'u) to God, all the earth" is that for the sake of God one must break all of one's "earthly" sense of independent, material existence. Thus, the teruah sounded on Rosh HaShanah, a sound resulting from the breaking of the long simple note (the te'kiah) into numerous short notes. (The she'varim note reflects the breaking of the simple te'kiah into three shorter sounds; the te'ruah–the breaking of the she'varim–breaks each she'varimnote into three even shorter sounds, such that each te'kiah is equivalent to nine te'ruah sounds).

"Knowing" the te'ruah ("Happy are the people who know the te'ruah") is the inner knowledge (unique to the Jewish people) of how to call out in joy. It is the perfected service of the broken heart; the inward "breaking" is enclothed in a visible joy, reflecting unaffected "walking humbly."

"A broken and contrite heart, O' God, You will not despise" (Psalms 51:19). The perfect vessel for receiving revelations of God's inner light is a broken heart; "There is not a more perfect vessel than a broken heart." The Supernal God responds to those who humbly turn to Him with a broken heart. In the merit of the broken heart in one's innermost recesses, one's earnest spiritual request, "God in the light of your countenance," is met with "they shall walk"–the quality of "walking humbly."

Three Types of Te'ruah

There are three distinct types of te'ruah sounds discussed by the Sages: A te'ruah of weeping (called ye'vavah); a te'ruah of battle; and a te'ruah of joy. Though, in general, the notion of the te'ruah sound is associated with Rosh HaShanah–"The mitzvah of the day is the shofar"–more specifically, the secret of the te'ruah is connected with all of the Jewish festivals in the month of Tishrei.

The te'ruah of Rosh HaShanah is the te'ruah of weeping, a sound that arouses great compassion and mercy. The te'kiah sound of Rosh HaShanah is the outcry of the heart; the she'varim is a sigh that breaks one's body.

The te'ruah of Yom Kippur is "the te'ruah of battle." In works of Kabbalah and Chassidic thought it is explained that the principal battle, and the victory of holiness over its great enemy, the evil inclination, takes place on the holy day of Yom Kippur. On this day we afflict ourselves with five forms of affliction and pray five complete prayer services. On this day we actualize the verse, "And you shall circumcise the foreskin of your heart" (Deuteronomy 10:16) and that of, "And the Eternal One, your God, will circumcise your heart and the heart of your seed" (Deuteronomy 30:6), which allude to "excising the foreskin of the shell of Amalek," the sworn enemy of the Jewish people.

The te'ruah of Succot (and Shimini Atzeret) is the te'ruah of joy. The festival of Succot is called "the time of our joy," the occasion of the water–drawing celebration, from which was drawn Divine inspiration–the spirit of prophecy–amidst surroundings of tremendous joy.

Three Interpretations of Te'ruah

On Rosh HaShanah, the te'ruah is connected linguistically to the concept of favor and grace (the root of te'ruah being cognate to the Aramaic root of ra'avah, identical to the Hebrew ratzon or "will"). On the verse, "Happy are the people who know the trumpet (te'ruah) call," Rashi explains, "who know how to appease (l'ratzot, i.e. to arouse the good 'will' of God) their Creator on Rosh HaShanah. This is by means of the blowing of a te'ruah in conjunction with reciting verses of God's Kingship, remembrances, and shofar-blowing." On Rosh HaShanah we supplicate God to reign over us, in the secret of the verse, "The trumpet blast of a King is among them" (Numbers 23:21). We willingly accept upon ourselves the rule of God, and He too is awakened, as it were, to renew His Kingship over us. Our will for God's absolute sovereignty is itself the Supernal Crown with which we crown the Supernal King on Rosh HaShanah.

On Yom Kippur, the te'ruah is connected with the Hebrew word for "breaking," as noted above. The inner enemy, and even the outer one, is broken in battle and rendered submissive to the side of holiness. He is even converted into a force that serves the side of holiness, in the secret of the mystical saying, "evil (ra, cognate to te'ruah) is a throne for good." During the confession prayer of Yom Kippur, with each recitation of "we have trespassed" and "for the sin of?," we beat our breasts upon the heart. With sincere confession and symbolic striking of the heart, we circumcise the foreskin of the heart, effecting in its deepest recesses the perfection of the quality of "a broken heart."

On Succot, the te'ruah is associated with the Hebrew word for "friendship" (re'ut, from the same root as te'ruah). The sages state: "'All Jews are worthy to dwell together in one succah–in love, peace and friendship'–and spread over us the succah, shelter of Your peace" (Maariv prayer service). In Kabbalah, the succah reflects the secret of "the surrounding light of the Supernal Mother"–"A happy mother of children" (Psalms 113:9). Concerning the perpetual unification of the Supernal Father (whose inner quality is "self-nullification") and the Supernal Mother (whose inner quality is "happiness") it is written, "Eat, dear companions" (in the secret of the commandment to eat in the succah). Ensuing from this verse (Song of Songs 5:1), the Supernal Father and Mother are referred to in Kabbalah as "two companions that never separate."

The object of spiritual work–the broken heart–is effected, in general, during the Ten Days of Repentance (starting with the weeping in one's heart on Rosh HaShanah) and is completed on Yom Kippur. However, perfection in the manner of service–"walking humbly," the enclothement of "the broken heart" in garments of joy and happiness occurs on Succot, "the time of our joy."

During the seven days of the Succot festival, we hide ourselves (the aspect of "walking humbly") in "the shadow of faith" of the succah. On Shimini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, the te'ruah of happiness reveals itself as "the 70 faces of the Torah" (te'ruah permuting into the letters ayin Torah, "70 [of] the Torah"). At that point we see the realization of the secret of "Happy are the people who know the te'ruah." Then, for the remainder of the year (the days of "Jacob went on his way" [Genesis 32:2]), we merit, "O' God, in the light of Your Countenance, they shall walk."

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

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