First time in English: The Torah said to blow the Shofar

Rosh Hashanah thoughts from the late Chief Rabbi and Rosh Yeshiva of Merkaz Harav, Avraham Elkana Cahana Shapira zts"l. Appearing in English for the first time.

Harav Avraham Shapira zts"l, | updated: 00:29

Judaism הרב אברהם שפירא זצ"ל
הרב אברהם שפירא זצ"ל
צילום: ישיבת מרכז הרב

Uru Yesheinim Mishnaschem – Those who are sleeping – Awaken from your slumber!

The Gemara discusses the reasoning behind the blowing of the Shofar, “Rabbi Yitzchak said, ‘Why do we sound the Shofar on Rosh Hashana?’ Why do we sound the Shofar?! Hashem said to sound it! … Rather, why do we sound a tekiah and a teruah when the congregation are sitting, and then again sound a tekiah and a teruah when they are standing? In order to confuse the Satan.

The Rambam expounds upon this, “Although the blowing of the Shofar on Rosh Hashana is a decree from Scripture, it has further implications, as it says in the passuk, ‘Awaken, awaken, from your slumber; those who are sleeping, examine your deeds and do Teshuva.’” What makes the concept of Shofar unique to the Jewish people is that it hints to us to wake up and begin the process of Teshuva. The mitzvah is to repeat the Shofar blasts, and we blow again and again, a mitzvah within a mitzvah. Rosh Hashana is the Day of Judgment, and as such it is a day of war. At times of war we are subjected to accusations, so we must blow the Shofar in order to confuse our accuser, the Satan. The Satan knows very well before what the entire world is standing; it knows that on the day of Rosh Hashana the affairs of the entire world are being judged –not just the state of every individual, but the state and future of the entire world. Throughout the year, the Jewish people have the power of Tefillah, Kol kol Yaakov – “The voice is the voice of Yaakov,” and on Rosh Hashana our strength is doubled, for combined with the power of Tefillah is the power of the Shofar. The Shofar is also a type of Tefillah, as we say in the bracha of the Rosh Hashana Tefilla, Shomea kol teruas amo yisrael b’rachamim – “Hashem hears the voice of the Shofar of His Jewish people with mercy.”

Yom teruah yihiyeh lachem – “You shall have a day of Shofar blowing,” one of the times the Shofar is blown is at times of war, and on the day of Rosh Hashana we are indeed standing in battle before the attribute of judgment. As we say in the passuk from Tehillim, Ashrei ha’am yod’ei teruah – “Praiseworthy is the people who know the Shofar blast.” Through the Shofar blasts, they understand that the means to cling to Hashem is by the blowing of the Shofar. The Shofar blasts are what awaken them to attach themselves to Hashem. U’sruas melech bo – “And the trumpet blast of the King is in him,” through the Shofar blasts, we awaken to the day’s fear of judgment, and we transform judgment into mercy.

In the Tefillah of Rosh Hashana we say, U’nesaneh tokef kedushas hayom… V’chol ba’ei olam ya’avorun – “Let us now relate the power of this day’s holiness… All mankind will pass [before You]” and the books of life and death are open on Rosh Hashana. Throughout the year a person may have a sliver of hope, but on Rosh Hashana all options are open, no one has any guarantee as to his fate in the upcoming year. Chazal, however, have revealed to us the secret of how to elevate ourselves and be remembered favorably, Imru l’fanai Malchuyos, Zichronos, v’Shofaros, Malchuyos, k’dei she’tamlichuni aleichem – “Recite before me on Rosh Hashana verses of Kingship, Remembrance, and Shofar. Verses of Kingship, in order to accept my sovereignty upon yourselves…” Here there is an element of serving Hashem through love, to crown Him as king, and to accept upon ourselves the yoke of His kingship.  Crowning Hashem takes place, first of all, by reciting the p’sukim of the Torah – Hashem’s p’sukim. Imbedded in the p’sukim of the Torah is an awesome strength that is alive throughout the generations, to this very day. Through our Tefillah, we have the ability to make an impact upon the Heavens, as embodied by the phrase, “in order to accept my sovereignty upon yourselves” – by our words. By reciting the p’sukim of Kingship, we fulfill the order to “accept my sovereignty upon yourselves,” and by reciting the p’sukim of Remembrance, we enhance the memory of our positive aspects.

The Gemara asks, – “How is this done? By blowing the Shofar” – The Shofar blowing is also Tefillah, Ki atah shome’ah kol shofar u’ma’azin teruah – “For You hear the sound of the Shofar and give ear to the Shofar blasts.” Even the sound of Shofar needs mercy in order to be heard in Heaven; the sounding of the Shofar includes an aspect of worship of the heart. The Aruch writes that the one hundred Shofar blasts correspond to the one hundred sobs of Sisra’s mother, indicating that the sounding of the Shofar has the power of Tefillah. Just as the sobs of Sisra’s mother expressed her deep emotional state, so too, we are commanded to express our sobs to Hashem through the Shofar blasts. No cry goes unheard, and no Tefillah is without impact. From here we see the exactness of Hashem’s judgment, how even the number of sobs of a non-Jewish woman is not forgotten. Similarly, our every deed and act are weighed and measured.

The Shofar blowing on Rosh Hashana reveals two aspects of the holiday: that it is both a Yom Tov, and that it is a Day of Judgment. As a Yom Tov, Rosh Hashana is a day of happiness, as the Rambam refers to the holiday in his question, “How many Shofar blasts is a person required to hear on the Yom Tov of Rosh Hashana?” Since it is a Yom Tov, “We are certain that Hashem will perform a miracle.” The Tur brings the words of Chazal, “Rabbi Simmon says, it is written in the passuk, Ki mi goy gadol – ‘For who is a great nation…’ Rabbi Chanina and Rabbi Yehoshua say, is there a nation like [the Jewish] nation, that recognizes the attributes of their G-d, as well as the meaning of his customs and laws? For the way of the world is such that if a person is to undergo judgment, he wears black clothing and wraps himself in black garments, grows his beard, and does not cut his fingernails, since he does not know what his verdict will be. Yet, Bnei Yisrael are not like this; [when they undergo judgment] they wear white clothing and wrap themselves in white garments, shave their beards, cut their fingernails, and eat, drink and are happy on Rosh Hashana, since they know that Hashem will perform a miracle for them.” As such, there is no oral confession the entire Yom Tov.

The second aspect of the day, however, is one of personal introspection, as well as fear of judgment. It contains fear and trust simultaneously; the fear of Hashem along with, Chedvas Hashem he me’uzchem – “the enjoyment of Hashem is your strength.” As the Rambam writes, that the blowing of the Shofar has further implications, and it is also a worship of the heart, “Awaken from your slumber, those who are sleeping.”

Malchuyos, Zichronos, V’Shofaros – Kingship, Remembrance, and Shofar

Regarding the p’sukim recited in the Mussaf of Rosh Hashana, Chazal tell us to first recite p’sukim of the Torah, then p’sukim of the Ketuvim, and finally, p’sukim of Nevi’im. The reason the p’sukim of Ketuvim precede those of Nevi’im, despite the fact that Navi precedes Ketuvim, is that the p’sukim of Ketuvim contain something that the p’sukim of Nevi’im lack. The prophets gave over their prophecies verbally to those who heard it, and to their entire generation. Afterwards, prophecies which were rendered necessary for future generations were written down. The p’sukim of Ketuvim, on the other hand, were given initially in writing, and so we place the p’sukim of Ketuvim before the p’sukim of Nevi’im.

The source of Kingship and Remembrance is in judgment, as it says in the Tefillah of Rosh Hashana, Atah zocher… u’foked kol yetzurei kedem –  “You remember… and You recall all the creatures fashioned since earliest times,” and, Hayom ya’amid bamishpat kol yetzurei olamim –  “Today all the creatures of the world stand in judgment.” As we recite the p’sukim, we awaken the power of mercy, and transform Kingship and Remembrance to a force of mercy. The Shofar blast itself is one of judgment, and yet, the Yom Teruah – “Day of Shofar Blasts” and the mitzvos that we perform on that day, enhance the memory of our good deeds before Hashem, and creates for us a Zichron Teruah – “Remembrance of Shofar Blasts” which is mercy. This is in accordance with the Ramban who says that Rosh Hashana is a merciful day of judgment, and through the remembrance of the Shofar blasts from the receiving of the Torah, everything changes to mercy.

Here we see the difference between Remembrance and Kingship on the one hand, and Shofar on the other hand. In Remembrance and Kingship, we begin from the creation of the world, Atah zocher es kol hamif’al v’gam kol hayetzur lo nich’chad mimeka… V’gam es Noach b’ahava zacharta – “You remember everything ever done and not a single creature is hidden form you… You lovingly remembered Noah…” With the p’sukim of Shofar, however, we begin from the time Bnei Yisrael received the Torah, when we were formed as a nation. The power of Shofar was initiated at the time of the receiving of the Torah, because it is unique only to the Jewish people. Only the Jewish people are a nation that understands the meaning of the Shofar, and as such, the p’sukim of Shofar begin with, Atah nigleisah ba’anan kevodecha, al am kodshecha, l’daber imam… u’v’kol Shofar aleihem hofa’ata – “You were revealed in Your cloud of glory to Your holy people to speak with them… and with the sound of Shofar You appeared to them.” This is the meaning of the Gemara’s question, “And by what? By the Shofar.” The Shofar is the unique force that has been renewed at the receiving of the Torah. Both the Shofar and the Torah are full of mercy. The Torah is called “Rachmana” – mercy, and Rachaman amar tik’u  – “the Torah said to blow the Shofar.” The way to achieve mercy is through Teshuva, because it is through Teshuva that we can transform Rosh Hashana from a day of judgment into a day of judgment and mercy. When the Jewish people care deeply about the mitzvos and they blow the Shofar again and again out of love for the mitzvah, this love awakens the attribute of mercy.

M’loch al kol ha’olam bichvodcha – “Reign over the entire universe in Your glory.” What is the meaning of the phrase, “in your glory?” The explanation seems to be from the episode in which Moshe Rabbeinu requested from Hashem to, Hareini na es kevodecha – “Show me now your glory,” and Hashem answered him, Ani a’avir kol tuvi al panecha – “I shall make all My goodness pass before you.” Hashem’s glory is his attribute of goodness, and this is the meaning of the request, “Reign over the entire universe in Your glory” – in Your goodness. Hashem wants to bestow goodness upon us, and requests from us that we simply, “open for me an opening the size of the tip of a needle, and I will open for you an opening the size of a hall.” All we need to do is open a tiny opening, that is stable and permanent. This opening is made for us by the Shofar.

Chana’s Tefillah

Vayehi hayom – “And it was, that day.” The Zohar explains that every time the passuk says “and it was, that day,” it refers to Rosh Hashana. So it was in the story of the Shunamit woman in Melachim Beis, when the Navi asked her, “Can something be said on your behalf to the king?” Would you like to request something of the King of the Universe? She answered him, “I dwell amongst my people,” I have no personal requests; whatever will be with all of the Jewish people is what will be with me. With Chana as well, it is written in Shmuel Alef, “And it was on that day,” this was Rosh Hashana, and on that day many laws regarding Tefillah, which are learned from Chana’s Tefillah, were established. Rosh Hashana is a day of Tefillah and requests, Tefillah like Chana’s Tefillah, from the depths of the heart, as it says in the passuk, “She was of embittered soul... and she wept continuously.” Chana teaches us the basic principles of Tefillah that are particularly relevant to Rosh Hashana.

One can ask, why does Chana only daven then, if she has been barren already for many years? It is possible to say, that previously, Elkana’s deeds are mentioned, how he would ascend to Shiloh every year, and give a portion of the korban to his wife. Only afterwards, does Elkana ask Chana, “Why do you cry?... Am I not better to you than ten children?” Immediately following, it says, “Chana stood up… and she prayed to Hashem, and wept continuously.” After seeing that Elkana has fully accepted the situation as is, and has already given up, Chana comes to the decision that if he has ceased to make efforts, then she would make an effort. Even in cases of total despair, Tefillah has an effect; it can change the entire situation. The power of such a Tefillah, despite the feeling of hopelessness, is accepted. Chana feels full despair, and says to Hashem, “If You take note of the suffering of Your maidservant.” Her Tefillah is then accepted, as Eli the Cohen tells her, “The G-d of Israel will grant the request you have made of Him.”

We read the story of Chana as the Haftarah on Rosh Hashana to recall this crucial foundation of Tefillah.  Even in extremely difficult situations, there is no despair, for the Jewish people have the power of Tefillah. As it says in Devarim, “For which is a great nation that has a G-d Who is close to it, as is Hashem, our G-d, whenever we call to him?” Even when there are terrible decrees upon the Jewish people, we have learned from Chana never to despair.

This foundation for Tefillah also explains a story in the Midrash. The Gemara tells the story of Eli, who speaks to Chana, telling her that her son Shmuel is to be punished by death for ruling Torah law before his Rabbi. Eli tells Chana that from the Heavens, she will be granted a son even greater than Shmuel. Chana answers Eli, “For this child did I pray.” This response leaves much to be explained, for how is the fact that Shmuel was born from Chana’s prayers meant to change his verdict, if he is indeed deserving of punishment by death? Yet, the answer is, as Chana was reminding Eli, that Shmuel was born out of the prayers of a broken heart, on the day of Rosh Hashana, “She prayed to Hashem.” Whatever is given from Heaven through Tefillah, it is as if it cannot be exchanged for something else. This Tefillah also gave Chana an argument against the Heavens, “For this child did I pray.” Nothing is more important to a person than what he toils for, and Tefillah is certainly toil and labor.

The main focus of our Tefillah is on the redemption of the world, as we say in the Tefillah of Rosh Hashana, V’simloch atah hu Hashem Elokeinu miheira levadecha al kol ma’asecha – “Then You, Hashem, will reign alone over all Your works…” and, V‎eyeida kol pa’ul ki atah pe’alto, veyavin kol yetzur ki atah yetzarto, veyomar kol asher neshama be’apo, Hashem Elokei Yisrael Melech – “Let everything that has been made know that You are its Maker; let everything that has been molded understand that You are its Molder, and let everything with a life’s breath in its nostrils proclaim: ‘Hashem, the G-d of Israel, is King…’” We should all merit that the memory of our good deeds be enhanced before Hashem, V’nisgav Hashem livado bayom hahu – “And Hashem alone shall be exalted on that day,” we should all we written and stamped with all of the Jewish people for a good year, and we should merit to hear the sound of the great Shofar to liberate us speedily in our days, Amen.

Translated by Yaffa Chaya Ben-Rachamim from Morasha, the set of books on Torah and Holidays written by Harav Avraham Elakana Cahana Shapira zts"l. The Hebrew text was edited by Rabbi Shamir Shintop and Rabbi Yehonatan Aviv.