is customary to recite psalm 47 seven times before we blow
the shofar. This psalm, written by the sons of Korach, speaks
of the Kingship of G-d over all the Earth. As the psalmist
tells us, the shofar is the coronation of the King of Kings.
While this theme is no doubt appropriate before the blowing
of shofar, it seems quite strange to choose a psalm which begins "for the conductor, by the sons of Korach, a song." Of all the people to mention before the blowing of shofar -- which is after all the key mitzva of the day -- why mention the one composed by the sons of the wicked Korach?
The shofar is meant as a sign of the unity of the Jewish people. It was blown at Mount Sinai where we stood "with one heart as one people". It was blown daily in the Temple, which was destroyed due to hatred amongst Jews. It will sound to herald the messianic age, an age that can only come about when we are united as a people and justice is guaranteed for all. Even the sounds of the shofar bespeak this theme. While we have the "broken, disunited sounds of the shevarim and the teruah", they must be surrounded on both sides by the tekiah, a long unbroken sound. We end the High Holiday period with a tekiah gedolah, a long unified shofar blast. After spending the entire day together in shul we are confident that we have grown closer together as a people. We may have our disagreements, represented by the shevarim and teruah but they must be surrounded by the tekiah, that which unites us.
Korach is the symbol of disunity, argumentation and acting not for the sake of heaven. "Do not be like Korach and his congregation" the Torah warns us. Though cloaking his arguments in religious terms, Korach, seeking personal honour and power, challenged the leadership of Moshe and Aharon, provoking tragedy for all. Why did he do it? Our Rabbis tell us that he was jealous when passed over for a leadership position within the Jewish community, a position which was given to his younger cousin.
"And the children of Korach did not die." Thank G-d, children do not always follow in the footsteps of their parents. Teshuva is always possible regardless of one's background. When we come to blow the shofar, the call to repentance, we invoke a prayer authored by the children of Korach, who recorded the folly of continuing the "family feud" and were therefore spared the horrible death of their father.
The shofar must inspire us to "join hands, sound the shofar to G-d". Even a lack of good role models must not stand as a barrier to our quest to grow together as a people.
Perhaps we can now understand why it is that we don't blow shofar when Rosh Hashanah coincides with Shabbat. Strangely, the Talmudic Rabbis, fearful lest one inadvertently violate the Shabbat by carrying a shofar in a city without an eiruv, ruled it better not to blow the shofar rather than risk possible violation of the Shabbat. Perhaps, however, we can offer a philosophical explanation:
Six days a week we are mandated to continue the creative process started by G-d. Science, economics, art and culture are just some of the areas where we channel our energies. Yet for all that man has accomplished, on Shabbat, we acknowledge G-d as the supreme creator to whom we must subordinate ourselves. Our observance of Shabbat is our acknowledgement that G-d is our King. Furthermore, Shabbat affords us the opportunity to spend time with our family, friends and community as we take a break from the hectic pace of daily living. Our observance of Shabbat is testimony that we have heard and listened to the sound of the shofar. In a sense, the shofar has become superfluous. As we hear the sound and silence of the shofar let us make sure that we are listening carefully to its message. Shanna Tova!