Before we delve into some of the mystical secrets of blowing the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, we need to understand why we sound the shofar in the first place. When the Torah speaks of Rosh Hashanah, the first day of the Seventh Month, it simply says, "This shall be to you a day of teru’ah". The Sages of the Talmud understand this to mean that it should be a day of sounding the shofar. (Rosh Hashanah 33b) Therefore, as another Talmudic passage says, we sound the shofar simply because "The Merciful One says to sound it." Ultimately, we do not need graspable reasons for mitzvahs for they are rooted in the absolute simplicity of G‑d’s Unity, and reasons suggest something outside itself.

...we are thinking beings, and...we may also explore ethical, philosophical and mystical reasons for the mitzvahs.

Nevertheless, we are thinking beings, and we are created to seek meaning. Therefore, we may also explore ethical, philosophical and mystical reasons for the mitzvahs. The great lover of reason, the Rambam (Maimonides) writes that we sound the shofar in order to awaken teshuva within ourselves. The Sages and mystics offer many more reasons for every detail of the mitzvah of sounding the shofar. We will now explore a compilation of ideas that will help us understand — and feel — the sounding of the shofar with new depth.

The Deeper Reason for the Shofar

There are two sets of shofar sounds that we blow on Rosh Hashanah. The first set is called teki'at m’yushav/sitting blasts, and the second set, teki'at m’umad/standing blasts. We will come back to discuss the differences between these two types, but first let us note that by blowing the first set, which consists of thirty shofar-blasts, we fulfill the mitzvah of shofar. The question is: Why should we proceed to blow a second set? The Talmud says the reason for this second set is "to confuse the Accuser." (Rosh Hashanah, 16b)

The great 11th-century commentator, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (known as Rashi) writes that when the Satan/Accuser sees that we honor and love the mitzvahs so much, that we take it upon ourselves to do an extra set of shofar blasts, he is dumbfounded and cannot prosecute humans for their mistakes.

Rashi’s grandchildren, the authors of Tosafot, write that the second set is associated with "the sound of the Great Shofar". The Great Shofar, according to prophecy, is a mystical sound that will mark the beginning of the cosmic Redemption. When this time comes, "Death will be swallowed up," all separation and evil and the Satan itself will vanish. Therefore, when the Satan hears our second round of shofar-blasts on Rosh Hashanah, he becomes agitated and cannot focus on prosecution.

The Ra"n (Rabbi Nissim ben Reuven of the 14th-century) writes that the Satan is none other than the adversary that dwells within our own lower selves, the inclination to oppose goodness and truth. According to the Ran’s insight, we blow the extra sounds to quiet this inner adversary.

The literal meaning of teru’ah, sounding the shofar, is breaking, from the word re’u’a, broken. The sound of the shofar also spreads out, breaking down barriers in its way. Amos (3:6) says, "Could the shofar could be blown in the city, and the nation not tremble?" The shofar was sometimes sounded to alert the public of an ensuing battle. This sound inspired fear, breaking people’s humdrum state of mind. This could be one reason that the Rambam says the shofar awakens teshuva. The sound spreads out into the ego, as it were, causing the inner adversary to tremble and break down.

Sitting and Standing

...the sounds of the first set expand into the inner space of the ego and break the inner Satan.

The sounds of the first set are called sitting sounds because we are technically allowed to sit while listening to them. Allegorically, however, sitting sounds can mean that the sounds themselves sit down. When a person sits down, the straight line of his standing body is broken into angles. Part of the line then extends horizontally, breaking the space around the line and expanding into that space. This is an illustration of how the sounds of the first set expand into the inner space of the ego and break the inner Satan.

The sounds of the second set are standing sounds, because we are standing in the Amida prayer when they are blown. As a person stands, he no longer expands into horizontal space as in sitting, but he straightens the line of his body, bringing the space around him closer, and lifting his energy upward. This really confuses the Satan, for after he is broken and sent away, suddenly he is included and lifted.

The word in Hebrew for ‘confuse’-- iruv — is from the word to mix in, to include and it is also related to the word meaning sweet. As we include our neutralized inner adversary, we sweeten it, or elevate its nature. This is called "sweetening the judgment."