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Torah Attitude: Rosh Hashanah: Don't blow it on Shabbat
The Torah obligates us to blow shofar on Rosh Hashanah everywhere, even when it falls on Shabbat. The Sages of the Talmud made a decree not to blow shofar on Shabbat for the fear that someone would transgress the prohibition of carrying on Shabbat and would carry the shofar in a public domain to go and learn how to blow. This possibility of an individual who has the need on the Shabbat of Rosh Hashanah to go and learn how to blow seems to be a highly unlikely situation to occur. The shofar is blown at the end of each of the three sections of the Mussaf service. Just as Abraham brought a ram as an offering in place of Isaac, we blow the horn of a ram on Rosh Hashanah as if to remind G'd of that event. When we blow the shofar, the Heavenly Accuser, the Satan, gets confused and disturbed from bringing forth his accusations. When the sound of the shofar rises from Jewish congregations worldwide, G'd, so to speak, goes from His seat of judgment to His seat of mercy. The "awe" of Shabbat, with the consequence of accepting upon oneself to fulfill the Shabbat laws to the smallest detail, has the same power as the blowing of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah. "Whoever observes the Shabbat with every halachic detail will be forgiven even if he served idols like the generation of Enosh." The Zohar explains how on Shabbat G'd sits on a special throne where no accusations will be permitted to reach Him. "The Jewish nation will be redeemed in the merit of observing two consecutive Shabbats."
No shofar on Shabbat
The Mishnah (Rosh Hashanah 29b) says: "When the Festival of Rosh Hashanah falls on a Shabbat, they would blow shofar in the Temple but not in the rest of the country." The Mishnah continues to explain that since the destruction of the Temple, we do not blow shofar on Shabbat with the exception of the Town of Yavneh where the High Court of the Temple had relocated. The Talmud (ibid) explains that although the Torah obligates us to blow shofar on Rosh Hashanah everywhere, even when it occurs on Shabbat, the Sages made a decree not to blow shofar on Shabbat. They feared that someone would transgress the prohibition of carrying on Shabbat and would carry the shofar in a public domain to go and learn how to blow. This, says the Talmud, is similar to the decrees prohibiting taking a lulav on Succos or reading the Megillah on Purim when those days fall on Shabbat.
This seems very strange. Although there are other instances where the Sages of Talmud used their authority to make a decree to refrain from doing an act that is a Torah obligation, generally, this authority was only exercised if they had reason to be concerned that otherwise the situation was very likely to result in a negative consequence. However, the decree of not blowing the shofar on Shabbat deprives the Jewish nation of fulfilling this commandment throughout all generations out of fear that maybe once there will be one individual who has the need on the Shabbat of Rosh Hashanah to go and learn how to blow. This seems to be a highly unlikely situation to occur.
Mussaf and shofar
It becomes even more difficult to understand why the Talmud would prohibit blowing the shofar, when we analyze our Sages' explanations for the reasons for blowing shofar. It is well known that Rosh Hashanah is the Day of Judgment, when the deeds and accomplishments of every individual are being scrutinized in front of the Heavenly Court. The Talmud (ibid 16a) discusses the three special parts of the Rosh Hashanah Mussaf service: Malchiyot/Kingship, Zichronot/Remembrance and Shofarot/Shofar. We first say the portion of Kingship as an expression of accepting G'd as our Sovereign Ruler. We then say the portion of Remembrance in order that our remembrance should be brought in front of G'd for our benefit. And finally, we say the portion of Shofar to facilitate that our prayers will rise together with the sound of the Shofar (see Tosefta ibid 1:11). Continues the Talmud, "How do these three portions achieve this? Through the blowing of Shofar." This is the reason for the custom of all Jewish congregations worldwide to blow the shofar at end of each of the three sections of the Mussaf service.
The Talmud elaborates why the shofar is made from a ram's horn. We blow a ram's horn, says the Talmud, in order that the merit of the self-sacrifice of Abraham and Isaac at the Akeidah should stand by the Jewish people as they fulfill this commandment. Just as Abraham brought a ram as an offering in place of Isaac (see Bereishis 22:13), we blow the horn of a ram on Rosh Hashanah as if to remind G'd of that event.
Confuse the Satan
The Talmud further states that when we blow the shofar, the Heavenly Accuser, the Satan, gets confused and disturbed from bringing forth his accusations. Rashi explains that by repeating the blowing several times on the day of Rosh Hashanah, we show our eagerness to fulfill this commandment. This is a direct contradiction of the accusations of the Satan, who accuses us of not being sufficiently eager and careful in our observance of the commandments. We simply prove the Satan wrong by blowing the shofar several times, rather than just blowing the minimum obligation.
Mercy and teshuva
In many prayer books, a portion of the Zohar is printed prior to the blowing of the shofar. The Zohar (Vayikra 98b) describes how when the sound of the shofar rises from Jewish congregations worldwide, G'd, so to speak, goes from His seat of judgment to His seat of mercy (see also Vayikra Rabba 29:3). The Rambam (Laws of Teshuva 3:4) gives an additional reason for blowing the shofar on Rosh Hashanah. The Rambam writes that although the blowing of the shofar is a Torah decree, at the same time it comes to awaken us and remind us to do teshuva (repentance) and rectify our wrongdoings.
Awe of Shabbat
In view of all these reasons and explanations that clearly show the significance of blowing shofar on Rosh Hashanah, we need to clarify why the Talmud prohibits blowing shofar on Shabbat. Why are they so concerned that maybe once it will happen that someone in his eagerness to blow the shofar will take his shofar to be taught how to blow and transgress the prohibition of carrying in the public domain on Shabbat? The answer may be that our sages wanted to teach us a most important lesson how careful we have to be regarding the observance of the laws of Shabbat. As the Kabbalists say, already in the very first word of the Torah there is a hint to how cautious one has to be regarding the laws of Shabbat. The Hebrew letters of the word "Bereishis" when rearranged form the two words "Shabbat Yereh", which means "you shall be in awe of Shabbat."
A person who is sincerely in "awe" of Shabbat will as a consequence accept upon himself to fulfill the Shabbat laws to the smallest detail. This has the same power as the blowing of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah. The eagerness of the Jewish people to blow shofar is an expression of our readiness to accept G'd as our King. It also arouses us to repent and do teshuva for our wrongdoings. In the same way, the extreme caution we show by not blowing for the fear that even one Jew may transgresses one prohibition on Shabbat, is no less an expression of accepting the Heavenly Kingdom and the readiness to repent. When the Sages of the Talmud decreed not to blow shofar on Shabbat they knew that just like the blowing of the shofar is helpful to achieve forgiveness for our sins, Shabbat observance has the exact same power. As the Talmud (Shabbat 118b) says, "Whoever observes the Shabbat with every halachic detail will be forgiven even if he has served idols like the generation of Enosh."
In the congregations who pray according to Nusach Sefard, a portion of the Zohar is recited every Friday night before Barechu. The Zohar there describes the Kabbalistic concept of Shabbat that unifies everything into a "oneness". This corresponds to the unique "oneness" of G'd Himself. By observing the laws of Shabbat, we acknowledge G'd as the Creator of the world, and accept upon ourselves His Kingship. The Zohar continues to explain how on Shabbat G'd sits on a special throne where no accusations will be permitted to reach Him. We clearly see that all the achievements that we can facilitate by blowing the shofar on Rosh Hashanah can be achieved by Shabbat and its observance.
Days of Awe
Every year as we approach the Days of Awe, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, it is a time for reflection where every sincere Jew will try and rectify past flaws and contemplate on ways and means how to improve. It seems natural in a year when the first day of Rosh Hashanah falls on a Shabbat to give special significance to our observance of our weekly Day of Rest, and strengthen our commitment to its observance. We are blessed with an abundance of literature that helps us to achieve to spend the day of Shabbat, not just as a day of physical rest, but as a day of spiritual elevation which is first and foremost done by observing the prohibitions of our activities on Shabbat. If we all make a serious effort to increase our awe and observance of Shabbat, we no doubt will contribute to the fulfillment of the words of the Talmud (Shabbat 118b) that "the Jewish nation will be redeemed in the merit of observing two consecutive Shabbats." May we all, together with the whole Jewish nation, be inscribed for a good and peaceful year. And, in the merit of enhanced Shabbat observance, may we this year see the Coming of Mashiach who will bring peace to the land of Israel and to the whole world.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network