Why is it, then, that it was specifically the shofar blasts that made the people tremble at Mt. Sinai? Moreover, why were shofar blasts even necessary after the nation had already experienced the thunder and lightening?
A Blast of Unity
Perhaps we can resolve these questions with the following concept: A shofar naturally inspires fear; as we noted above, the pasuk states (Amos 3:6), “Is it possible that a shofar will be blown in a city and the residents will not become frightened?” The shofar blasts sounded at Har Sinai, however, may have had another purpose, for the blast of the shofar has the ability to unite Klal Yisrael.
Where do we find that the blast of the shofar unites the people? When Moshe Rabbeinu wished to gather the nation, he instructed Aharon’s sons to blow the silver trumpets (chatzotzeros), as the Torah teaches in Bamidbar 10:1-10. Likewise, on Yom Kippur of the Yovel year, the shofar was blown to signal that the avadim Ivrim, the Jewish slaves, were freed to return to their families and to become equal in status to the rest of Klal Yisrael. This too alludes to the shofar’s power to unite the people.
In fact, the Olelos Efrayim (essays 211-213) explains that the shofar blasts of Rosh Hashanah allude to the unification of the nation of Yisrael. The very design of a shofar alludes to unity. In Maseches Rosh Hashanah (26a), Abayei explains that a cow’s horn cannot be used as a shofar since it is composed of segments, and the Torah tells us to blow one shofar, not several shofars connected together. Likewise, Chazal (Rosh Hashanah 27a, and Rashi ad loc.) taught that if a shofar has cracked in two and is glued together, it may no longer be used for the mitzvah of shofar. These halachos seem to point to the need for absolute unity of the shofar.
Not only on Rosh Hashanah and on Yovel does the shofar blast signify unity but in the future as well. The Navi teaches us that at the time of the arrival of Mashiach, the scattered remnants of the Jewish people will be gathered back to their homeland through the blast of a shofar, as the prophet proclaimed (Yeshayahu 27:13), “On that day a great shofar will be sounded; the people who have been lost in the land of Ashur and those abandoned in the land of Egypt will come and prostrate themselves before Hashem on the holy mountain, in Yerushalayim.”
The power to gather Bnei Yisrael from wherever they have been exiled throughout the world and reunite them is an integral function of the shofar. As we say in our prayers: “Sound a great shofar for our freedom, and raise a banner to gather our exiles.”
Fear of Hashem Brings Unity
The question now is if the shofar on the one hand promotes fear and on the other hand promotes unity, how do we reconcile these two seemingly disparate concepts?
We suggest that these two facets of the shofar blast are in fact one and the same, rooted in the same concept. Once the shofar removes the obstacles to genuine fear of Hashem, each individual comes to realize that he is not an independent being, that he is an essential component in that great machine that is Klal Yisrael, that he is complete and unified only in conjunction with the klal.
To become worthy of receiving the Torah, Klal Yisrael was required to have absolute unity. Chazal teach (Mechilta to Yisro, Bachodesh #1), “Throughout the Torah, in reference to Klal Yisrael’s wandering about in the wilderness, the plural term ‘they traveled’ or ‘they camped’ is used, signifying strife and divisiveness among the people. Only when they arrived at Har Sinai does the Torah use the singular form in the term vayichan – he camped – because in this instance they were all united, “of one heart.”
Regarding this, Chazal teach (Derech Eretz Zuta, chapter Hashalom): Hashem said, “Since the people of Yisrael have demonstrated that they detest strife and they love peace, they have camped as one soul. Now I can give them My Torah.”
Explaining this passage, Harav Chaim Shmuelevitz (Sichos Mussar 5731, #7) teaches that the Torah was not given to any lone individual but was, rather, given to the entire nation. The nation of Yisrael is not considered a collective nation unless it has achieved the level of unity that is called “as one man, with one heart.” Thus, the purpose of the shofar blasts at Har Sinai was to reinforce the nation’s unity as it approached the mountain to receive the Torah.