The Gemara in Masekhet Rosh Hashanah (33b) famously establishes that the basic obligation of shofar on Rosh Hashanah requires sounding a series of “teru’a” sounds, each preceded and followed by a straight teki’a. However, as the Gemara notes, different views exist as to the precise definition of the word “teru’a.” All agree that the “teru’a” must resemble a weeping sound, but there are different opinions as to which specific weeping sound is commemorated. One view understands “teru’a” as referring to “genuchi ganach” – a groaning sound, what we commonly call “shevarim.” According to another view, the term “teru’a” refers to what we commonly call a “teru’a” – a series of very short sounds, which resembles “yelulei yelil” – frantic crying. Yet a third view is that the teru’a is both these sounds combined. This is why, as the Gemara concludes, we cover all possibilities by sounding the shevarim, teru’a, and shevarim-teru’a, with a teki’a before and after each.
The Shela, in Shenei Luchot Ha-berit (Masekhet Rosh Hashanah, Torah Or, 3), suggests a symbolic explanation of this sequence – a “weeping” sound preceded and followed by two straight sounds. The first teki’a, the Shela writes, represents the state of perfection with which the human soul enters this world. As King Shlomo famously pronounces in Kohelet (7:29), “…that God made mankind straight, but they then sought many considerations.” We begin life pure and pristine, but our pursuit of “many considerations” – wrongful joys and pleasures – taints our natural state of purity. And thus after the first teki’a, the Shela explains, we sound a teru’a, which, as the Gemara discusses, has two connotations. First, it signifies a “groan,” like a person suffering pain and discomfort, representing our angst over having lost our “teki’a,” the pristine condition with which we began life. Second, the teru’a expresses wailing, like a mourner weeping over the loss of a loved one. The teru’a sound is a sound of not just pain, but of lamentation, mourning the loss of our true selves, the loss of the people we were capable of being and we were meant to be. This is then followed by another teki’a – symbolizing the process of recovery, our ability to restore our initial “straightness.” As we groan and lament our loss of innocence and purity, we are to trust in our ability to regain that quality and in God’s compassion and forgiveness. We must believe in our capacity to rebuild ourselves, and this is the meaning of the second teki’a – the renewed purity which follows, and results from, our anguish and regret.
The Shela’s understanding of the teki’a-teru’a-teki’a sequence reflects the conflicting emotions that characterize the experience of Rosh Hashanah, and of repentance generally. The process of teshuva is, on the one hand, fraught with painful feelings of remorse, shame and guilt, the anguish of lost opportunities and of failure. But at the same time, growth is – and should be – exciting and invigorating. Teshuva is not only about the teru’a – the angst of regret – but about the transition from the teru’a to the teki’a, the remarkable ability and privilege we are given to rebuild and revive ourselves, to transform into somebody far greater than we are now. This accounts for the aura of joy and festivity that accompanies the solemnity of this day. Even as we stand in fear of judgment, reflecting upon our failures and lost opportunities of the previous year, we also excitedly embrace and celebrate the new opportunities that present themselves during the coming year, enthusiastically committing ourselves to seize them and use the new year as a time for positive change.