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Rosh Hashana 5761

By: Rav Ari Shames

The Exceptional Nature of the Shofar

The Mishna disqualifies the horn of a cow for use as a shofar on Rosh Hashana, because of the principle that an item that was key in a sin cannot be used to atone for our sins; as the calf was the key element in the "golden calf" we do not use the horn of a cow for Rosh Hashana.

The Gemara continues to flesh out this idea, and determines that only items that are used in the Kodesh HaKodoshem are limited in this manner but items used in other elements of Kapara can be used even if they remind us, and God, of the "golden calf", such as the Golden Mizbeach or the gold clothes of the Kohen Gadol which should have been rejected based on the "gold" and yet it is permissible as it is outside the Kodesh Kodashim. The question that Phillipa and Erica presented should be clear to all: If the Shofar is sounded outside of the Kodesh HaKodoshem we should be allowed t use the horn of a cow, despite the negative associations that it may bring up.

In order to answer this question we must first examine the nature of the mitzvah of the blowing of the Shofar on Rosh Hashana. A few peculiar halachot combine to create a very special view of the mitzvah.

The Mishna (R.H. 26b)debates the exact type and shape of the shofar to be used on Rosh Hashana. It determines that we should use a bent horn as opposed to a straight one as it best represents the idea of the day, that of tefilla and the subservience represented in one's bent posture during teffila.

The torah never defines the proper sound to be blown with the shofar, rather a vague statement about "treuah" is made. As we all know various sounds are sounded, Shevarim, Truah and even Shevarim Truah in order to be positive that we actually hear the proper one. The common denominator, according to the Gemara (R.H.33b), in all the sounds is, that they all sound like a cry or whimper. In other words the goal is clear, the shofar is to "cry", the specifics as to the exact style of the "cry" are left to be debated. Crying is one of the most basic forms of prayer, a calling out to God out of sincere are real need. Here as well we see a recurring theme, that of Shofar being a form of tefilla.

The shofar is sounded during the various berachot of the Amida, (the custom of blowing before Mussaf and after the Amida are later in origin). This, as well, at first glance, seems strange; after all during the Amida we are generally told to concentrate on the Amida alone to the extent that "even if a king were to greet one they should not respond" (Berachot 5:1). Yet we find ourselves in a sort of "time out" blowing the shofar and then getting back to the tefilah. The answer to this is, of course, that the sounding of the shofar IS tefilla itself and cannot be seen as a "hefsek" in any way. In the most extreme expression of this R. Akiva states in a Mishna (R.H. 32a) that "if we are not to blow the shofar for Malchuyot why bother say them?!". The shofar sounds are part and parcel of the Malchuyot, Zichronot and Shofarot. Even in cases in which, for some reason, the shofar cannot be combined with the tefila, such as someone who doesn't have a shofar at the time of davenning and only later is able to blow the shofar is still instructed to blow three sets of blasts. (Mishna R.H 33b.) Rashi explains that the first is said to correspond to Malchuyot the second for Zichronot and the third for Shofarot, which is incredible given the fact that the brachot may have been said hours prior to the shofar blasts, nevertheless Rashi sees them as inseparable.

The Gemara in Rosh Hashana (16a and 34b) relates the following statement "Why do we say Malchuyot, Zichronot and Shofarot on Rosh Hashana? Malchuyot- In order to make God our King. Zichronot- In order that good memories be presented before God, and through what manner? Through shofar"

This gemara reiterates the theme that we have been developing, Shofar IS tefila. The crying sounds, the most basic building block of prayer, flow from the bent shofar as a personafication of man himself. When we blow the shofar it is like no other mitzvah, it is not a simple technical fete to be measured in seconds and quantified in the four walls of the Bet Kenesset. Tekiat Shofar is a deep penetrating experience that transports all of us to the actuall Kodesh Hakodashim, we stand before God in the most direct and simple manner, it is viewed by Halacha as taking place in the most Holy location in the world and therefore is subject to such close scrutiny as to the associations it may create.

As we hear the shofar this year, may we allow it's piercing sound to transport us to the very Kodesh Hakodoshim and may we all have a ketiva vechatima tova.

What do you think?

The rishonim have a debate as to when the special brachot of Malchiyot, Zicronot and Shofarot are to be said, only at Mussaf as is our custom or at each and every tefila including Maariv. A third position believes that they should only be said during the Chazan's repition of Mussaf and not during the silent amida.

How is this related to the ideas we have discussed in this shiur?

By the way this section is meant to be responded to, so please feel free to send me your ideas.

Shanna Tova

R. Shames

Phillipa Segal and Erica Markowitz posed the following question while they were learning the Gemara in Rosh Hashana (26a):


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