June 18, 2024
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Shofar Blowing at Shaarei Orah—The Shechina Experienced!

It is the moment we come closest to Hashem of the entire year, the rabbi reminds the kehilla. Every year I remind our congregants of the Gemara that appears in the third perek of Masechet Rosh Hashanah, that the experience of tekiat shofar is comparable to the kohen gadol entering the Kodesh HaKodashim on Yom Kippur. Sephardic customs enhance and magnify the intense spirituality that envelopes the Beit Knesset during shofar blowing.

The drama begins with the congregation singing a powerful and haunting piyyut (with a matching haunting tune) invoking the intense drama of Akeidat Yitzchak. The piyyut is called “ עֵת שַׁעֲרֵי רָצוֹן” and its refrain is עוֹקֵד וְהַנֶּעְקָד וְהַמִּזְבֵּחַ. Readers are encouraged to view this poem online—the content is edgy and provocative. An example:

מִמַּאֲכֶלֶת יֶהֱמֶה מִדְבָּרִי

נָא חַדְּדָהּ אָבִי וְאֶת מַאְסָרִי

חַזֵּק וְעֵת יְקַד יְקוֹד בִּבְשָׂרִי

קַח עִמְּךָ הַנִּשְׁאָר מֵאֲפְרִי

וְאְמֹר לְשָׂרָה זֶה לְיִצְחָק רֵיחַ

Yitzchak tells Avraham to sharpen the knife and tighten the ropes surrounding him…and take the remainder of my ashes and present them my mother, Sarah, and tell her this is a fragrance of Yitzchak!

The intensity is taken to the next level by reciting Tehillim Mizmor 47 (לַמְנַצֵּחַ לִבְנֵי-קֹרַח מִזְמוֹר) seven times. Congregants do not merely silently recite this perek; Sephardim chant it with a melodic tune, each time led by a different prominent member of the congregation.

The ba’al tokei’a (person who blows the shofar in the synagogue) then utters a searing plea that his blowing should be acceptable to Hashem. He even incorporates by reference the proper kavanot (intentions) of none other than Moshe Rabbeinu, Rabi Shimon bar Yochai and Rabbi Yitzchak Luria. The rabbi reminds the kehal to have kavanah to fulfill this great mitzvah, and we are just about ready for the brachot.

To even further intensify the experience, it is customary for the tokei’a to cover the shofar just before the shofar blowing, as he recites the brachot of “Li’shmo’a Kol Shofar” and “Shehechiyanu.” As explained by Rav Eli Mansour, he places the shofar underneath his kouracha (tallit bag), and leaves it covered until after he recites the brachot, when he is ready to begin blowing. This custom is mentioned by the Elyah Rabba, who explains that this practice commemorates the incident of Akeidat Yitzchak. As Avraham Avinu constructed the altar upon which to offer his son, he feared that the Satan, in its effort to disrupt the sacrifice, may throw a rock at Yitzchak in order to inflict a wound, which would render Yitzchak blemished and hence unfit as an offering. Avraham Avinu therefore covered Yitzchak to hide him from the Satan. We commemorate Avraham Avinu’s devotion by covering the shofar just before it is blown.

With no interruption of someone barking out Tekiah, Shevarim, etc., the tokei’a blows a continuous flow of 30 kolot. The kehal sits, in keeping with the Gemara’s description of the first batch of teki’ot as “teki’ot d’meyushav.” In keeping with the Arizal’s recommendation, we follow the Aruch’s ruling to blow 30 more sounds of the shofar to accompany and intensify the Malchi’ot, Zichronot and Shofarot even during the silent Amidah. Finally, shofar blowing is topped off with the 101st blow of a Teruah Gedolah (not a Tekiah Gedolah), alerting us to carry the spiritual impact of the shofar-blowing throughout the day.

A great tokei’a makes the shofar blowing into a peak event. We are blessed to have our dedicated Gabbai Shalom Shushan, whose devotion to the tzibbur is endless, creating an efficient, intense and impactful shofar experience. The Shaarei Orah teki’ot, with Hashem’s help, live up to the Gemara’s description of the greatness of teki’at shofar. Great people practicing great minhagim make shofar-blowing at Shaarei Orah a truly magical moment.

By Rabbi Haim Jachter

 Rabbi Haim Jachter is the rabbi of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck.

 

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