The Torah (Bamidbar 29:1) describes Rosh Hashanah as “Yom Teru’a,” referring, of course, to the sounding of the shofar which is required on this day. Targum Onkelos translates the word “teru’a” in this verse as “yabava,” a term which the Gemara in Masekhet Rosh Hashanah (33b) explains as a reference to crying. It cites as a prooftext Devora and Barak’s description of the mother of the slain Canaanite general Sisera, who wept – “va-teyabeiv” – as she waited nervously, in vain, for her son to return from battle (Shoftim 5:28). The teru’a sound, then, connotes anxiety and uncertainty, a feeling of fear and insecurity about one’s future. Appropriately, the Torah earlier (Bamidbar 9:9) requires blowing a teru’a sound with trumpets during times of war and crisis – “va-harei’otem ba-chatzotzerot” – expressing the feelings of fear and anxiety wrought by the dire crisis. Indeed, the parallel term for teru’a is “shevarim,” which literally means “broken pieces.” Teru’a signifies the experience of emotional brokenness, brought about by fear and uncertainty.
By contrast, during festivals and times of celebration, the teki’a sound was blown – “u-tkatem ba-chatzotzerot” (Bamidbar 9:10). The straight, unbroken teki’a sound expresses confidence and security which allows us to experience contentment and joy. Whereas the teru’a reflects a broken spirit, enduring the uneasiness of uncertainty, the teki’a is the sound of confidence and security.
On Rosh Hashanah, of course, we blow both sounds. Although it is the Yom Teru’a, our oral tradition requires surrounding every teru’a sound with a teki’a before and after.
The explanation, perhaps, is that although we long for and strive for lifelong “teki’a,” for undisrupted serenity and security, a straightforward, smooth life in with no unpleasant surprises or large, unexpected obstacles we need to surmount, we must allow room for “teru’a,” for the fear and uneasiness of the unknown. Arguably the greatest impediment to change is fear and uncertainty. We feel comfortable and at ease with what is, with our current condition, and we feel uneasy about changing it. The experience of Rosh Hashanah requires us to introduce an element of teru’a, of uneasiness, into our lives which we otherwise wish would be characterized by the teki’a. Even as we hope and pray for the stability expressed by the teki’a, we are commanded to observe a day of contemplating teru’a, of preparing ourselves for the uncertainty and instability of change. If we live only as a teki’a, if our lives are always straight, stable and predictable, we will never grow and advance. In order to change, we need the courage to expose ourselves to the teru’a, to the discomfort and unfamiliarity of new terrain.
Formulating this idea a bit differently, on Rosh Hashanah we must ask ourselves, which “teki’ot” in our lives are we prepared to “break” into “teru’ot”? Which routines and habits to which we’ve grown comfortable and accustomed are we willing to break for the sake of personal growth? How much of our comfort are we willing to sacrifice in order to improve ourselves and become better people and better servants of God?
Of course, we are not expected to break all, or even most, of our teki’ot. As mentioned, every set of shofar blasts on Rosh Hashanah consists of just one teru’a surrounded on either side by a teki’a. It is perfectly acceptable and appropriate to maintain many of the “teki’ot” in our lives, to recognize the validity and value of many of our habits and routines. The challenge on Rosh Hashanah is to carefully assess our patterns of conduct to identify those which need to be broken, even at the expense of a degree of comfort and security which will need to be surrendered in exchange for the inestimable benefits of growth and change.
(Based on an article by Rav Ronen Neuwirth)