Posted on

Let the shofar do the talking

There are a number of situations in which halacha requires us to refrain entirely from talking. For example, you cannot speak between laying the tefillin Shel Rosh and the tefillin Shel Yad. In fact, the Gemara tells us that if someone does speak then, he is unfit to serve as a combat soldier on the battlefield! Likewise, according to some opinions, you cannot speak while checking for chametz on the night before Pesach (בדיקת חמץ).

Another no-talking time is from the time the first set of tekios (shofar blasts) is sounded, until the last set of tekios during Mussaf, a period totalling an hour or two, or even more.

After reciting a brachah on a mitzvah, you must immediately engage in the mitzvah. On Rosh Hashana there are two main sets of shofar sounds referred to in the Gemara as תקיעות דמיושב and תקיעות דמיועמד. The terms imply that the first set is done sitting, but in fact today all of the shofar blowing is done with both the shofar blower and the congregation standing.

When do we recite the brachah on the mitzvah of hearing the shofar? Before the Tekos D’Meyushav, before the Tekios D’Meyumad or both? The halacha is to recite the brachah before, but in order to have the brachah apply to the latter tekos as well, we refrain from talking, or any other distraction, until the Tekios D’Meyumad are complete, toward the end of the Mussaf repitition.

The Shulchan Aruch states this halacha explicitly (O.C. 592, 3). The Rif asks whether someone who does speak should then recite the brachah a second time before the Tekios D’Meyumad. He says that prominent rabbis reprimanded those who spoke, but held that the blessing should not be repeated before the latter tekios.

The Ran then launches an extended inquiry, saying that the case of tefillin differs, since the transgression is to cause an additional, superfluous blessing to be recited. In the case of the shofar blowing, there is no additional brachah involved. And we do not see, continues the Ran, that once one begins a mitzvah he cannot speak until it is complete. As an example he cites Bedikas Chametz. He disagrees with the poskim who forbid speaking throughout Bedikas Chametz, saying if that were true then after reciting HaMotzi we would be forbidden from speaking throughout the meal, and after Leishev B’sukkah we would be forbidden from speaking throughout the time we do the mitzvah of eating, drinking, sleeping and relaxing in the sukkah.

The case of speaking after the first set of shofar blasts would appear to be less problematic than speaking during Bedikas Chametz since after the first set of shofar sounds we have already fulfilled the mitzvah in principle.

Despite the argument he presents, the Ran concludes that in deference to the opinion of the Reish Mesivta cited in the Gemara, one should still refrain from speaking.

Posted on

Blessing recited on the mitzvah of shofar

Based on the Talmud Yerushalmi, the Reviah rules that the blessing before the mitzvah of shofar should end with the words לשמוע קול שופר.

However, according to the Rosh and Rabbenu Tam, the correct ending is על תקיעת שופר, “…to hear the blowing of the shofar,” much like the reading of Megilas Esther, when we say על מקרא מגילה.

However, the Behag explains that the reason we say לשמוע קול שופר rather than לתקוע בשופר or על תקיעת שופר is that the mitzvah is actually fulfilled by hearing the shofar, not necessarily playing the shofar.

In fact, the Mishnah discusses a case where the shofar blower is above ground and the listeners are in a pit. If they hear the shofar while he hears only the echo, they fulfill their obligation, but the shofar blower himself does not (Rosh Hashana 20b).

The Chayei Adam adds that this is reflected in the verse that is the source of the mitzvah, יום תרועה יהיה לכם. Here the verse does not command us to blow the shofar, but to have a day of תרועה. However, note that the Gemara does state that Hashem told us to blow the shofar: רחמנא אמר תקעו (Rosh Hashana 16b).

Posted on

Have Shofar, Will Travel

While most people have the privilege of hearing all 100 blasts of the shofar from the comfort of their shul seat, in every town there are also Jews who can’t make it to the synagogue — even on Rosh Hashana — because they are hospitalized, housebound or institutionalized.

Many shofar blowers view these hapless folk as an opportunity to take Rosh Hashana beyond the synagogue walls and to earn a double mitzva: visiting the sick (bikur cholim) or doing acts of kindness (chessed), and enabling others to fulfill the commandment to hear the shofar on Rosh Hashana.

In some cases these mitzvah-seekers may be organized into a “shofar corps,” making sure that if someone wants to hear the shofar on Rosh Hashana, a traveling shofar blower will come to them.

For several years, master shofar blower Michael Chusid of Tarzana, California participated in a monthly Shabbat service at a nursing home. Several members of the minyan were unable to speak and were locked in bodies they no longer controlled. “Yet somehow,” Chusid recalls, “I could sense that even their souls were moved when they heard the shofar at our Rosh Hashana gathering.”

Another member of the Shofar Corps run by his congregation, Makom Ohr Shalom, blew the shofar at a different nursing home. After he finished blowing the shofar an elderly gentleman approached him saying, “Young man, that’s the first sound I’ve heard in 30 years.”

According to another shofar blower who ventured with shofar in hand to a facility for people with impaired memory, “Just saying the word tekia triggered a couple of people’s memories, and they would light up like a happy kid. We led the Shehechiyanu and translated it, giving thanks for being right here, right now. These people are in the Right Now — each moment is a new day for many of them.”

“Hearing the shofar can be especially meaningful to those who are sick and live with the knowledge that their days may be numbered,” writes Chusid. “The call of the shofar may reassure them that, in sickness as in health, we each stand before God as the Holy One passes judgment. For the dying and their families, prayers of teshuva take on a special urgency, and hearing the shofar may provide them comfort.”

Go to Jericho Shofar>>


Posted on

Shofar on Rosh HaShanah

The shofar is generally made out of a ram’s horn, and the Blowing of the Shofar has many purposes and many layers of meaning.

If it is made of a ram’s horn, rather than an eland, ibex or kudu horn, it calls to mind the ram that Abraham sacrificed in place of Isaac. And it helps instill in us awe and fear of Hashem’s glory, as it says in Amos 3:6: “If a ram’s horn is sounded in the city, can the inhabitants fail to be alarmed?”

The word “shofar,” is similar to the word “shapru,” Hebrew for “beautify”, which is to remind us to beautify our deeds and correct our actions.

The shape of the shofar also hints at of our relationship with G-d. The shofar has a narrow end and a wide end. We blow into the shofar at the narrow, tapered end, and the sound comes out of the wider end, as in some musical instruments. This alludes to the verse, “From the straits I called upon Hashem, Hashem answered me expansively” (Psalms 118:5), which we actually recite before the blowing of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah. In other words, when we are in dire straits we pray to Hashem, and He responds by helping us with expansively, i.e., with bountiful help and support.

One person is designated as the shofar blower, which is a difficult task, and in any case should be performed by a righteous person, since in a sense he is representing us.

On Rosh Hashanah we are judged. The Tempting Angel, who is also our Accuser, stands before the Heavenly Court and enumerates our sins. But the Talmud tells us that whenever we perform a Mitzvah the Accuser is silenced as long as we are doing that Mitzvah. Thus, while we are listening to the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, we cannot be accused. Therefore, this is a very opportune time to silently repent our sins.

Judaism does not believe in confessing to human beings. When you confess, do so quietly, so that only Hashem and you can hear it. If you have sinned against another human being, you must ask that person for forgiveness first (not while the shofar is being blown, of course), and afterwards confess quietly to Hashem and resolve to try not to sin again.

Our blowing of the shofar is also like crying. It is our cry to Hashem to show that we are sorry for our sins.

There are three types of sounds that we blow on the shofar: one straight sound, a set of three brief sounds, and a set of staccato sounds. Why these sounds? Eac represents a different crying sound: the long moan, brief groans, or choppy cries. Sometimes a crying person makes various kinds of crying sounds, catching his breath, bleating, even hicupps, at times.

This reminds us that Hashem has mercy on us like a father has on his crying children, giving them what they need and comforting them.

Today is the birthday of the world. Today all creatures of the world stand in judgement, either as children or as servants. If as children, be merciful with us as a father has mercy on his children. If as servants, our eyes look to You, in dependance upon You, until You are gracious to us and acquit us with a verdict as clear as day, O Awesome and Holy One.

We blow the shofar in a number of stages: some of the blasts we blow immediately after the blessing, and the other blasts are disbursed throughout the prayers.