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|Kabbalistic Understandings Of The Shofar|
|Written by Tzvi Fishman|
|Monday, 10 September 2012|
The Goal Of The Holidays
According to the Kabbalah, one of the main themes of the upcoming High Holidays is Tikun HaBrit, the rectification and renewal of the Covenant (Brit) between G-d and the Jewish People.
Kabbalists emphasize the great importance of this rectification for our times, since we are now in the Hebrew calendar's Sixth Millenium, which parallels the sefirah (Divine Radiance) of the Yesod, associated with the Brit. The Yesod is the spiritual channel that brings Divine Illumination (shefa) and blessing into the world. In the Kabbalistic blueprint that pictures man as the microcosm of the universe, the Yesod is directly associated with the male sexual organ commonly referred to as the Brit.
Our transgressions, particularly our sexual transgressions, damage this channel and cut us off from Divine bounty and goodness. When transgressions multiply, G-d forbid, this spiritual descent can clog up the channel of blessing completely, and bring about both personal and national hardship.
The Call of the Shofar
The Zohar, the basic work of the Kabbalah, associates the shofar with the sefirah (Divine Channel) of Yesod. According to the Zohar's author, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the sound of the shofar rises to transcendental spiritual worlds via angels, as it says, “For the birds of heaven will raise up the voice” (Kohelet, 10:20). The numerical equivalent (gematria) of “For the birds of heaven,” [Ki off hashamayim] equals that of the word shofar. In Kabbalistic terminology, the expression “birds of heaven” refers to the sefirah of Yesod (Tikunei Zohar, 131b). The Yesod influences our world by drawing down celestial blessing.
For this reason, Yosef, who provided material sustenance for the Jews in Egypt, and for all of the world, is known as Yosef HaMashbir, the provider of sustenance. The Zohar explains that he merited this status because of his exalted sexual purity in being careful not to blemish the sefirah of Yesod by refusing to have relations with Potifar’s wife who tried to seduce him (Zohar, Bereshit 197a). The blowing of the shofar comes to cleanse the Yesod, to blast away at the pollution caused by our sins, and reopen the channel, so that our prayers can ascend and awaken the flow of Divine Illumination from Above, which provides for all of our needs.
In his book, “Secret of Hashmal,” the Kabbalist scholar, Rabbi Yekutiel Zalman Zev, explains this process of spiritual rectification:
This is the shofar.
Because of its power to cleanse and rectify the channel of the Yesod, its call is heard in the most exalted worlds, high above strict judgment, to the exalted sphere where G-d’s kindness and mercy reign. In this way, the shofar draws down the Divine Illumination that was blocked because of our sins. Thus we recite before blowing the shofar, “Rise Elokim (the attribute of judgment) with the truah (blast); the L-rd (attribute of mercy) with the sound of the shofar” (Tehillim, 47:5).
The Yesod and Yom Hazicharon
This “supernatural” aspect of the shofar can also be seen in the Torah and Haftorah selections of Rosh HaShana, describing Sarah and Hanna’s miraculous pregnancies. The Talmud teaches that Sarah, Rachel, and Hanna were all Divinely granted children on Rosh HaShana (Talmud Rosh HaShana 10b). Sarah didn’t even have a womb (Talmud Yevamot 64b). Their pregnancies were beyond the laws of nature.
We reach this transcendental level through the blast of the shofar in order to remind G-d of the merit of our forefathers and bring down the Divine Influx that we would otherwise be denied. Interestingly, Rabbi Zev notes that the numerical equivalent of the Hebrew words “And He remembered [Sarah],” (pakad et) (Genesis 21:1) equals the numerical value of shofar.
Shofar and The High Priest
The Talmud equates the sounding of the shofar with the service of the Kohen HaGadol (High Priest) in the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur (Talmud Yoma 53b). Like the shofar, the Kohen HaGadol, the paragon of sexual purity, represents the Yesod, in his role of activating the flow of shefa from Above.
Just as the blasts of the shofar awaken the people of Israel to repentance, and draw down sustenance and blessing, so too the prayers of the Kohen HaGadol atone for the transgressions of the nation and draw down the life-sustaining blessings of rainfall and sustenance for the year. In Kabbalistic terms, both the shofar and the Kohen HaGadol bring about a yichud, or unification, between G-d and the Jewish People.
This exalted unification finds expression in the teaching of the Talmud that whenever Zichronot are recited, Malchiyot are to be recited with them (Talmud Rosh HaShana 32a). Activated by the blasts of the shofer, the Zichronot influence the male principle of Yesod to give forth its shefa to the receiving, female principle of Malchiyot, our world. This reopening of the flow of Divine Illumination also marks the renewal of the Brit on Rosh HaShana, and thus we conclude the order of Zichronot with, “Blessed are Thou, O L-rd, who remembers the Brit.”
This coming week, may the blasts of the shofar awaken Divine favor and herald the immanent coming of Mashiach (the Messiah) and the complete redemption for the Jewish People and all of the world.
|Last Updated ( Monday, 10 September 2012 )|
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