Hebrew Words: Shofar, Teruah, Yovel

Posted by on May 26, 2024

Leviticus 23:24 refers to the first day of the seventh month as Shabbaton, a memorial day which is to be proclaimed with a blast of a horn, hence, the Day of Trumpets. But in the rabbinic literature, this day is called by the misnomer “Rosh HaShanah”, which literally means in Hebrew “Head of the year” or “New Year”, even though Exodus 12 clearly designates the beginning of the year in the spring, the time of the Exodus from Egypt, not in autumn. For the purpose of the present Hebrew study, we will focus on verses in Leviticus 23 and 25 regarding the blowing of horns for the sanctifications of the first day of the seventh month and Jubilee Year.

Sanctification of Yom Teruah

According to the tradition, the use of a ram's horn is a reference to the binding of Yitschak, when Avraham sacrificed the ram in place of his son. Other animal horns may be used, such as the horns of antelope, but the horns of oxen are forbidden, as they bring the memory of the sin of the Golden Calf.

The use of a ram’s horns on Yom Teruah is a reference to the binding of Yitschak, when Avraham sacrificed a ram in his place. While other animals’ horns may be used, such as the horns of antelope, horns from oxen are forbidden by the sages, as they evoke the sin of the golden calf.

In Leviticus 23:24, the first day of the seventh month is first called Zichron Teruah, meaning a recalling or memorial of the trumpet blasts or trumpet shouting, and in Numbers 29:1, it is called Yom Teruah, meaning the Day of Shouting or the Day of Shofar Blast, also known as the Day of Trumpets. Hence, the rabbis understand “recalling” as “the Day of Remembrance”, on which day Israel asks the Eternal to remember the nation for good, for concerning this day, He desires remembrance, recollection. We read,

Speak to the children of Israel, saying: In the seventh month, in the first day of the month, shall be Shabbaton to you, a memorial proclaimed with the blowing of horns, a set-apart gathering. (Lev 23:24)

The difference between Zichron Teruah and Yom Teruah will be better understood by what the sages said on the verse. They said that on this day of the year, according to the received tradition, it is inscribed, and on Yom Kippurim it is sealed in heaven: How many shall pass on, and how many shall be born; who shall live, and who shall die; who in his time, and who before his time; who by water, and who by fire; who by sword, and who by beast; who by hunger, and who by thirst; who by earthquake, and who by plague; who shall rest, and who shall wander … Who shall be impoverished, and who shall be enriched. Who shall fall and who shall rise. (From the Rosh HaShanah prayers)

On this day it is customary to recite the following prayer to the Eternal: “And God our Lord gave us with love this day of holy convocation for remembrance, recalling the sounding of the shofar, a holy convocation in love, as a commemoration of the exodus from Egypt. For You have chosen us and sanctified us from all the nations, and Your words are true and everlasting. Blessed are You God, the King of the entire earth, who sanctifies Israel and the Day of Remembrance”. Mishneh Torah, Sabbath 29

So, the first day of the seventh month of the year is the Day of Remembrance, namely, the commemoration of the Exodus from Egypt. However, considering the unique standing of Yom Teruah among the appointed times of the Eternal as Zichron Teruah, a recalling of trumpet shouting, the question raises itself: Why in the seventh month, and not in the first month when the actual exodus took place, if this day was meant for commemoration of the Exodus? We have explained the unique standing of Yom Teruah satisfactorily in accordance with what we have taught in the series The Appointed time of YHVH dedicated to this day. For further knowledge on the matter, the reader will do well to read what we have written in our commentary on the appointed day of the Eternal: Yom Teruah.

Sanctification of the Sabbatical year

The first day of the seventh month of the year is designated as Shabbaton, a day of solemn rest. By association, the seventh month, like the seventh day of the week (Shabbat), is consecrated as Sabbatical month: as the first day is of the month is sanctified, so is the whole month sanctified in the first day, and thus through the sabbatical observance, the seventh month is raised to the level of Shabbat. This consecration of the first day is done by setting it apart in gathering and the suspension of labor, thus distinguishing the beginning of the seventh month from the beginning of the other months of the year.

The Torah says that the first day of the seventh month shall be Shabbaton, meaning that it should be a day of rest, not a day of labor. Similarly, a Shabbat of Shabbaton (solemn rest) shall be for the seventh year: a year of a complete rest for the Land. Concerning the rest of the land, it is said,

…but in the seventh year the land is to have Shabbat Shabbaton, Shabbat to the Eternal. Do not sow your field and do not prune your vineyard. (Lev 25:4)

This means that the seventh year must be set apart to its Creator as a Shabbat of complete rest. Leviticus 25:8 further teaches us to count seven Sabbaths of years and count seven times seven years, thus forty-nine years are counted. And in the forty-ninth year, on the first day of the seventh month we are to sanctify the month with the sound of shofar, and thus we are to do on the tenth day of the month to sanctify the coming of the fiftieth year, the Yovel year, as we read,

You shall then sound a blast of shophar (teruah) on the tenth day of the seventh month, on Yom haKippurim you sound a shophar through all your land. And you shall set the fiftieth year apart and proclaim release throughout all the land to all its inhabitants, it shall be a Yovel for you. And each of you shall return to his possession, and each of you return to his family. (Lev 25:9-10)

The fiftieth year is “a Yovel to you, it is set-apart to you”, in the words of the Torah. In that year, we shall give a complete rest of the Land the Creator has given us by not sowing, nor reaping even what grows of its own, but we shall eat from the field its crops. In the fiftieth year, the Year of Yovel, each one of the congregations of Israel is to return to his ancestral land he eventually has sold to someone else (Lev 25:11-13).

After all of the above, it remains for us to explain the three words in question: shofar, teruah, and yovel in Leviticus 23 and 25. To these Hebrew words we now turn.

Shofar: Horn

The first of the three Hebrew words is שׁוֹפָר shofar, which means a curved horn. The noun שׁוֹפָר shofar come from the verb שָׁפַר shafar, which means to glisten, to gleam, to shine; figuratively, goodly. There is an unclear etymological link between the noun shofar, “horn”, and the verb שָׁפַר shafar, “to shine”, because it is used in the only place it appears in Tanach: Psalm 16:6. When a word has been used in only one place, it is difficult to derive its meaning from a single use of it, as opposed to when a word is used in many different contexts. The use of dictionaries does not help much either, since we would face the same issue. Perhaps, the missing link is that horns adorn the animal protruding from the head, as light radiates from the lamp. The use of a ram’s horn in our cases above, the rabbis explained, was a reference to the binding of Yitschak, when Avraham sacrificed a ram in his place. While other animals’ horns may be used, such as the horns of antelope, horns from oxen are forbidden by the sages, as they evoke the sin of the golden calf.

Teruah: Shouting

The Hebrew noun תְּרוּעָה teruah comes from the verbal root רוּעַ rua, which means to mar especially by breaking; figuratively to split the ears with sound, that is, shout for alarm or joy. Shepherds use ram’s horn when attending the flocks. Unsurprisingly, there is an etymological link between the word for a shofar blast or shouting, תְּרוּעָה teruah and the Hebrew word for “shepherd”, רֹעִי ro’i. But the word teruah does not necessarily associate with the blowing of a horn or trumpet. In the most pronounced example of such a case is its use in the destruction of the walls of Yericho, where rua can refer to the shouting of human voice pairing with teruah (the shout) of the horns. We read,

So the people shouted (rua), and the priests blew with the horns (shofar). And it came to pass, when the people heard the sound of the horn (shofar), that the people shouted (rua) with a great shout (teruah), and the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city. (Jos 6:20)

Yovel: Blast of a horn, Jubilee

And the last Hebrew word we will learn is יוֹבֵל yovel. Most commentators based on Jos 6:4, Jos 6:6, and Jos 6:8 understand the word yovel as “ram” (Ibn Ezra says that Yovel is a lamb), and by extension its horn (Exo 19:13). Thus, shofar and yovel refer to one and the same. But the root יָבַל yaval, indicates “bringing in” of the sheep by the horn blowing in a continuous sound; also, to carry, lead forth (see Isa 53:7 and Jer 11:19). As such the blowing of a horn is yovel, hence the horn itself and the year which it introduces: Yovel (Jubilee). Yovel can specifically refer to the signal of the silver trumpets in the Temple service for Yom Teruah, the Sabbatical year (shemitah), consecutively the forty-ninth year, and the fiftieth year—Yovel.

In the light of what has been learned above, it is now possible to understand the interconnection between the Hebrew words shofar, teruah, and yovel, namely, when we fulfill Leviticus 25:9-10 and sound teruah on Yom haKippurim, the sound of shophar through all the land, we set apart the Year of Yovel, the year of freedom.

Knowledge known to only a few will die out. If you feel blessed by these teachings of Time of Reckoning Ministry, help spread the word!

May we merit seeing the coming of our Mashiach speedily in our days!


This page contains sacred literature and the Name of the Creator. Please, do not deface, discard, or use the Name in a casual manner.