Child blowing shofar for Rosh Hashanah

Tishrei Tidbits- Rosh Hashanah

An obvious question this year is why, when the first day of RH comes out on Shabbat, don’t we blow the shofar? The most common reason is rather technical, that an inexperienced blower might carry it out on Shabbat through a public domain, to bring it to an expert blower to learn how to blow. Now after we learn about how important shofar blowing is (R Sadia Gaon gives ten vital connections), in and for this world and beyond, couldn’t the sages have figured out a way to still permit it even on Shabbat (henceforth referred to here as Shabbos)?

Morah Yehudis Fishman

Each year there are deeper and deeper reasons given, primarily from the perspective that the power and influence of Shabbos equals and even transcends that of Shofar! (after all, they both begin in silence…sh…sh…-my two cents) . If only we could take this to heart and treasure each Shabbos of the year; after all, even if we ‘blow it’ (pun intended) and don’t honor Shabbos properly, we just have to wait seven days to try again. But let’s look at some other angles, about shofar on Shabbos.

First the shofar in general: As R. Glatstein writes in one of his masterful books called: the Mystery and the Majesty: There is a principle: ‘the accuser cannot become the defender’. (I will IYH write more about that for Yom Kippur.) We are meant to do teshuva especially throughout the time frame from the beginning of Elul till Yom Kippur. Much of teshuva involves a verbal acknowledgement of our transgressions and faults. In fact if you read the list from the YK confessional, most of the sins mentioned are themselves verbal. So even if we need to articulate our wrong doing, doesn’t that become an expression of ‘the accuser- meaning our power of speech- trying to become the defender? Hence, the by-pass solution of the wordless cry of the shofar, expressing our deepest regrets from the essence of our soul, rather than the external manifestation of our mouths.

The classic clever Halachic interpretation from R. Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev- as most know, there are 39
primary activities that are forbidden on Shabbos, one of which is writing. However, if one’s life is in danger, the prohibition is superseded by life saving measures. Now, many are familiar with the famous
teaching about RH (as symbolized by the sign of the scales of Libra) that three books are opened on RH-
the book of life, the opposite, and the one for the inbetweeners, like most of us. Under divine scrutiny,
our deeds of the past year are viewed, and depending on the outcome of the audit, we are put in one of
those books and have till Yom Kippur to improve. If G-d is doing the writing on RH, we can be written in
any one of the three. However, on Shabbos, G-d can write only in the Book of Life, since that is meant to
save us from a harsh judgement. Therefore, according to the Rebbe, we are much more likely this year to come out favorably!

Another gem from the Berditchiver about shofar: We say- or maybe the shofar itself is speaking- Look,
G-d, you alone can calculate how many shofars have been blown throughout history, even in one
generation alone. The total is almost infinite! So this year, when both we and You hear the sounds, can
you please fulfill your promise of ‘And it will be on that day, the Great Shofar will be blown (the shofar
of Mashiach) and the lost ones in Ashur, and the scattered ones in Egypt, will come to bow before G-d in
the holy mountain in Jerusalem.

A famous story along the same line: A rabbi was accustomed to blow the shofar each day of Elul at
home. He had a baby who loved the sound and would look forward to it each morning. However we
know that we do not blow the shofar the day before RH in order to make a separation between the
‘preparatory’ blowing of Elul and the obligatory blowing of RH. The little boy of course was not familiar with that custom and so when his father woke up, the boy wrapped his little arms around his father’s
legs expressing his anticipation for his beloved sounds. When the father got up to leave without blowing
the shofar, the boy became hysterical and began sobbing and wailing (maybe imitating the sound of the
shofar itself) and began turning blue from intensified crying. The father couldn’t explain the halacha to
the boy and was worried that his son’s life would be in danger. So, he picked up the shofar, and blew it.
Afterward, in his own sobbing voice, he cried to G-d. ‘Please forgive me for not following the custom,
but I felt my son would get sick if I didn’t blow. Please, G-d, remember that your children have been in
exile for thousands of years. We have been sobbing and wailing over the troubles in our lives and in the
world for so long, that our lives are in danger. So please even if we do not yet deserve that the great
shofar should be blown to signal the redemption, as a loving father, please mitigate your judgement and
blow that cosmic shofar!

Now a few general RH gems. It is brought down in Tanya that on the day before RH, the entire world
implodes into a kind of coma state where the energy of the past year actually disappears from existence.
Only when the shofar is blown the next morning, does the year ‘come back to life.’ But it is not just a
return of the life before; it is a brand new flow of life that has never been in existence from the beginning of time till the present moment, indeed, a flow of life that was not even in G-d’s original timetable! Talk about renewal, that moment when we accept the divine presence into our lives, is the moment that creation of the entire cosmos is justified. No wonder there is so much wonder and awe connected to that moment. It is the ultimate hearing and realization that nothing could exist for even a split second without G-d’s constant input. Another teaching about RH in general, rom the first rebbe of Gur- the chidushei ha’rim- that during the whole month of Tishrei, G-d is a kind mother: On RH he/she births us, on YK cleans us off, on Sukot, wraps us in soft clouds of Glory, and Simchat Torah dances with us. The Shechina, the divine feminine presence has been beside us during the whole month of Elul, but now she really shines!

And another from the Berditchiver: there is a verse recited in the RH Amidah,: l’koneh avadav b’din’ to
the one who acquires a servant in judgement. So the story goes that the Satan was eagerly waiting to
gather up all the sins of the Jews in a big sack, and then he saw that someone on RH itself did a big one.
As he rushed to gather it up, he dropped his sack and the rebbe who could see what was going on in
heaven, picked up the sack and began to examine the sins one by one. For each he turned it over and
over and kept finding reasons why it wasn’t so bad..ie it wasn’t intentional, someone else tempted him,
etc. till the full balloon was depleted..Meanwhile the Satan came back to the sack and found it empty
and got furious and yelled, ‘Who stole the contents of my sack?’ The Torah says a thief should become a
slave; I want that thief, and no one in heaven could answer him back, till G-d cried out, ‘I will purchase
the thief’ and so that year thanks to the rebbe, the judgement was mitigated.

Finally, along the same line, another reason for not blowing the Shofar on Shabbos- The sages say in
general when the shofar is blown, G-d moves from the throne of strict justice to the throne of
compassion. But as we read in many prayer books quoted from the Zohar, on Shabbos itself G-d moves
from the weekday throne of normal karmic reactions to people’s deeds, to a supernal realm that is
beyond ordinary time and space, to a throne where all is light and love- if only we can have the eyes and
ears and hearts and minds to get a glimpse of that realm, we can experience Shofar-ic vibes the whole
year round. Blessings for the sweetest year ever, especially with the revealed appearance of Mashiach,
in a special appearance on this earthly stage, where ‘the knowledge of G-d will fill the world like water
fills the sea.’

About Morah Yehudis Fishman

I have been teaching Torah and Chassidic writings for over forty years to students of all ages and backgrounds, both on the East Coast and the Midwest. I have been a director of several Jewish organizations in Santa Fe and Colorado. My articles and poetry on a wide variety of Jewish topics have been printed in many publications, and also are available online.

Check Also

Reflections on Yom Kippur, a Poem, a Prayer

A new poem from Todd Greenberg.

Join Us for a Meaningful Humanistic Yom Kippur Celebration!

Humanistic Judaism considers Yom Kippur to be the culmination of the self-analysis that was initiated on Rosh Hashanah. We are offered the opportunity to ask forgiveness from ourselves as well as from those we have wronged, and we vow to be active, involved, caring people in the coming year.