Sunday, September 16, 2012

Shofar Sound Signals Rosh Hashanah

Eli Winter demonstrates how to blow a shofar

By Eli Winter

HOUSTON, Texas, U.S.A. – So guys, you may know (well, if you’re Jewish, you sure do) Rosh Hashanah (ראש השנ) starts tonight, and millions of kids are happy that they don’t have school on Monday.
Well, at least those in the Houston Independent School District are happy, because we don’t have school on Monday.
Rosh Hashanah is, to oversimplify, the Jewish New Year. The name comes from the Hebrew for “Head of the year” (ראש Rosh means “head”; השנה means “the year”) which means the beginning of it, but in a more literal way.
Maybe that’s what the guy who gave Rosh Hashanah its name thought, anyways. When you tell people about what it literally means, you tend to get confused looks.
It’s the first of the High Holy Days in Judaism. Sadly – for, perhaps, some Californians – that doesn’t mean Jews the world over light up some currently illegal drugs to “find themselves.”
Nope. It’s basically one of the most important days of the Jewish year. Didn’t mean to scare you prospective converts away, though.
Why’s it so important?
“It’s the first day of the Jewish year. Duhh.”
Heyy! Look who decided to come to Hebrew school today! You want some raisin challah? It’s a special kind of challah that’s braided and twisted and it looks great, but ... it has raisins.  I stay away from it, because I hate raisins with a passion. I’m tolerant of religions, not fruit.
Or how about some apples and honey? You eat them on Rosh Hashanah to symbolize a “sweet New Year,” which is about as corny and obvious as how in some Scout troops when you give a “round of applause” you clap your hands in a circle. But still. It’s a big crowd pleaser.
Now me, personally, I turn down the apples and honey when it’s offered to me; not because I’m some evil, bitter, old man who doesn’t like apples and honey, but because I don’t like apples and honey. Can’t help it. Anyways.
Another crowd pleaser on Rosh Hashanah (and the High Holy Days) is the blowing of the shofar.
The shofar is basically a ram’s horn that’s got a really cool, curvy shape. It looks great. A drawback to that is that unless you’ve practiced blowing it – obsessively – it doesn’t sound good at all.
So, if you know what you’re doing when you blow it, the sound that comes out sounds regal – fantastic – like Morgan Freeman, all rich and full and the perfect voice to narrate those Visa commercials you see during the Olympics.
If you don’t know what you’re doing when you blow it, …
Let’s not go there.
Back to the ram’s horn. The shofar is blown in a certain order during Rosh Hashanah services. If you don’t blow it in that order, you very well could get struck by lightning (What? Technically anything could happen...) and that sure wouldn’t be a good way to start the year.
The blowing order, while certain, tends to vary from branch to branch of Judaism, depending on how conservative or traditional you are.
First is Tekiah, when the shofar is blown for a moderate-to-longish amount of time. Next is Shevarim, when three or nine notes from the shofar are blown quickishly.
Next, Tekiah again.
Then Teruah, which is nine very fast notes from the shofar.
Following Teruah comes Tekiah again.
Finally is Tekiah Gedolah. Oh, this is the good one! This is the one where the rabbi/cantor/shofar-blower blows the shofar for as long as they possibly can without falling over and dying.
That sound like a long time? Well, it is.
I’ve seen faces turn red, faces turn pink, and notes just kind of fizzle out because the shofar-blower doesn’t blow into the shofar correctly. Sometimes they look so desperate to get some air that you’d think some of the more intensely religious members at the service would pray for them, to get just that last little bit of air for one awesome shofar blast.
A final custom of Rosh Hashanah – though not the only one, oh God, there are a lot of them – is to toss out bread crumbs in some water.  No, not like a glass of it. That won’t fly with your rabbi. Try more like a lake or river or some body of water.
This symbolizes “casting away” your sins, if you will. Some folks also toss pebbles in, or toss those in instead of the bread. Either one works, really.
Anyways guys, hope you all have a Shanah Tovah – a good year!

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