We are all familiar with the climactic shofar blast blown at the end of Ne’ilah as the awesome day of Yom Kippur comes to an end. Although it may seem like an appropriate time to sound the Shofar, it is worthwhile to explore the roots of this Minhag in order to appreciate its significance. Perhaps the most well known reason offered for this Minhag, quoted in Tosafot (Shabbat 114b s.v. Le’Eil Ve’Amai), is that this is simply a Zeicher LeYoveil, a reminder of the shofar blowing of the Yoveil year which took place on Yom Kippur. Tosafot themselves reject this explanation, as it hardly seems necessary to commemorate Yoveil each year, considering that Yoveil itself only occurred every fifty years. Rather, suggests Ri, we are announcing that the fast is over and that those at home can prepare for the post-fast meal.
Additional suggestions can be found in the works of many Acharonim, but one approach contains a particularly important message which helps us appreciate this special time of year. We know that one of the places in the Torah where the shofar plays a pivotal role is at Har Sinai, as it signified the presence of the Shechinah. Similarly, the shofar blown on Rosh HaShanah signifies the presence of Hashem in a way that is more tangible than at other times of the year. The Gemara itself characterizes the Aseret Yemei Teshuvah as a unique time of closeness with Hashem, and connects this concept to the Pasuk, “Dirshu Hashem BeHimatezo Kera’uhu BiHyoto Karov,” “Seek out Hashem when He is found, call out to Him when He is near” (Yishayahu 55:6). When, asks the Gemara, is Hashem found and close to us? The ten days from Rosh HaShanah to Yom Kippur.
With the parallel to Har Sinai in mind, the Semag suggests that the shofar of Yom Kippur is similar to the Shofar blown at the end of Matan Torah, reflecting that Hashem’s Shechinah has now departed from our midst, as it did then. Considering that the process of Matan Torah itself culminated on Yom Kippur with the giving of the second Luchot, it is fitting that our unique period of closeness with Hashem concludes on Yom Kippur as well.
By connecting the Shofar of Yom Kippur to that of Har Sinai, we can better appreciate the days that follow. Many Rishonim, especially Ramban, address the concern facing Bnei Yisrael as their direct encounter with Hashem at Har SInai came to an end. How could we be expected to maintain our connection to Hashem without His tangible presence? Ramban points out that in addition to a specific Mitzvah to constantly remember Ma’amad Har SInai (according to his own opinion), the very purpose of the Mishkan was to be a daily Ma’amad Har Sinai-type experience, a place we constantly connect to Hashem.
In a certain respect, the ideal manner in which we are meant to connect to Hashem is not through the Har Sinai-type experiences, but rather through our ability to translate that experience into everyday life. Granted, we may need a vehicle like the Mishkan to help us, but our relationship with Hashem only deepens in the aftermath of Har Sinai. In the same vein, the Vilna Gaon points out that this is precisely the idea behind the Mitzvah of Sukkah. In the same way the Mishkan was our way of extending the unique experience of Har Sinai into everyday life, so too the Sukkah becomes our personal Mishkan where we continue to find Hashem in the aftermath of the Yamim Nora’im. (In fact, the Gra calculates that the mishkan’s construction began on the first day of Sukkot: Moshe received the second Luchot on Yom Kippur, in the next few days the command to construct the Mishkan was given to Bnei Yisrael, and on the fifteenth of Tishrei we began building the Mishkan.)
May we all be Zocheh to have a Gemar Chatimah Tovah and be able to successfully infuse every minute of every day with the Divine Presence. “Ve’Asu Li Mikdash VeShachanti BeTocham,” “And you shall build for Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell within you” (Shemot 25:8).