The Sound of Tekhelet

During the month of Elul it is customary to sound the shofar every weeday, in anticipation of the coming Days of Awe.

Classically, the blast of the shofar is associated with a call to repentance. However its sound can also be undersood in a different context, as beautifully expressed by Rav Shmuel Gruenfeld z”l in his introduction to Beit Hashoevah, only a small piece of which is paraphrased below.

The last psalm in Sefer Tehillim reads:

Praise Him with blasts of the shofar;
Praise Him with harp and lyre.
Praise Him with drum and dance;
Praise Him with flutes and pipe.
Praise Him with resounding cymbals;
Praise Him with wailing cymbals.
The entire soul shall praise G-d.

Rav Shmuel points out the parallelism of this psalm with the following quote, preserved in the last mishna of Seder Kodshim:

Rabbi Yehoshua said: This is what they referred to when they said, “When it [the ram] is alive it has one voice. And when it is dead it has seven. How is it that it has seven voices? Its two horns are two trumpets [shofars]; its two thighs, two flutes; its skin, for a drum; its intestine, for harps; its small intestines for lyres. And some say: Even its wool is for tekhelet.” (Kinim 3:6)

When a ram is alive it has only one voice. However when it is dead, it is not considered a loss. On the contrary! Its potential to sound praise to Hashem has increased, and in a certain sense it is many times as great as it was in its lifetime.

Most commentators explain that the sound associated with tekhelet is that of the golden bells sewn onto the hem of the M’eel HaEphod, the tekhelet robe of the Kohen Gadol. However this explanation is somewhat unsatisfactory, as the golden bells – and not the tekhelet – produce the sound.

It is possible to get a sense of Tekhelet being the eighth voice, from its parallel in the last phrase of the Psalm: The entire soul shall praise G-d.

In Hebrew, the first eight letters of כל הנשמה תהלל י-ה הללוי-ה add up numerically to the word תכלת.

Rabbi Shlomo HaSefardi explains that this phrase hints to the higher soul which is in heaven. According to the Zohar (3:29) all souls are etched beneath the Throne of Glory, which itself is associated with tekhelet (see As High as the Sky). Therefore, it would not be far off to say, that the sound of tekhelet is in essence the sound of the soul.

Before Rav Shmuel Gruenfeld’s untimely and tragic passing, he enthusiastically advocated the restoration of tekhelet to Am Yisroel. May his neshama, along with the blasts of the shofar, continue to sound praise to Hashem eightfold.