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The Sound Of Silence; Tekkiah, Shevarim, Teruah

Ram horn

50 x 11 x 4 inches


The four sounds of the shofar—tekkiah, shevarim, teruah, and tekkiah gedolah—remind many people of a wailing voice. Hearing the shofar’s call is a reminder for us to look inward, to repent for misgivings of the past year, and to consider our actions for the year ahead.


As a child, I recall going to synagogue with my family and listening with reverence and awe to the sound of the shofar at the end of Yom Kippur. The powerful sound signified the end of the fast and the ‘real’ beginning of the Jewish New Year. I recall never being sure I had repented enough, never fully understanding what that meant.


Years later as an adult, I still find myself listening intently, at times trembling with awe as the shofar is sounded, wondering what awaits me in the year ahead. The first sound, tekkiah, is a single long and lively note as if one were greeting a royal ruler. The second, shevarim, is a series of three short blasts that is said to remind listeners of sobbing or sighing, and the third, teruah, a long trembling sound of nine sharp notes that is likened to the sound of an alarm. The fourth and final sound, tekkiah gedolah, is one long note held until it takes the blower’s breath away like a wailing cry.


In September 2020, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of England wrote, “The shofar is the wordless cry of the heart of a religion made of words. Judaism is a profoundly verbal culture. Yet there is a time for emotions that lie too deep for words. The sound of the shofar breaks through the carapace of the self-justifying mind and touches us at the most primal level of our being.” 


The shofar is an inanimate object. It can only be activated with the intent and breath of the blower. Our intentions are sometimes like a shofar. They can sit unused on a shelf, looking pretty all year. It is only when we act on them that their power becomes realized.


The shofarot in this piece (Hebrew, plural for shofar)—pierced and cut—suggest the necessity for both intention and action. One without the other lacks the purpose necessary to make meaningful change.

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