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Rabbi Michael Rosensweig
Rabbi Michael Rosensweig

Yom Teruah and Zikhron Teruah: The Centrality of Mitzvat Shofar even on Shabbat Rosh Hashanah

The mishnah (R.H. 29b) rules that the mitzvah of tekiat shofar is suspended whenever Rosh Hashanah coincides with Shabbat. The gemara explains that this suspension is due to the concern that preoccupation with the performance of the mitzvah might precipitate a violation of Shabbat ("shema yaavirenu arba amot be-reshut ha-rabim"). The gemara reports that same consideration was applied in suspending the practice of the mitzvot of lulav and Megillat Esther when they coincide with Shabbat. However, notwithstanding this policy, the mishnah records an exception: the mitzvah of shofar was observed in the mikdash (Temple) even on Shabbat. Moreover, in the aftermath of the destruction of the mikdash, it was determined that tekiat shofar would continue to have a Shabbat outlet in venues which housed a permanent sanhedrin.

Tosafot (R.H. 29b s.v. aval; Sukkah 43a s.v. inhu) notes that we do not encounter a parallel manifestation with respect to the mitzvah of lulav. During the Temple era, the mitzvah of lulav was practiced universally if the first day of Sukkot was a Shabbat (mishnah, Sukkah 42b). After the Temple's destruction, the performance of lulav on Shabbat was uniformly terminated. What accounts for the discrepancy between these two Biblically ordained commandments? Why was it deemed important to attempt to find some outlet for tekiat shofar even on Shabbat, while the same risk of Shabbat desecration categorically precluded the performance of lulav?

Tosafot's response succinctly, but profoundly highlights the indispensability of tekiat shofar as a vehicle transmitting Klal Yisrael's merits to Hashem: "de-shofar hu le-haalot zichronoseihem shel Yisrael le-avihem she-bashamayim lo ratzu le-vatel legamri." Tosafot's formulation of shofar's function in communicating the nation's "zichronot" invokes Rabah's celebrated characterization of the interrelationship between the three themes of Rosh Hashanah- malchiyot, zichronot, and shofrot. The gemara (34b) reports that the integration of shofar blowing and its accompanying themes is unique, requiring that the various berachot be expressed in conjunction with the tekiot ("tekiot u-berachot shel Rosh Hashanah ve-Yom Hakippurim meakvot"). Rabah elaborates this interconnection by accentuating the different but mutually enhancing contributions: "amar Hakadosh Barukh Hu: imru lefanai be-Rosh Hashanah malchiyot, zichronot ve-shofrot. Malchiyot kedai she-tamlichuni aleichem, zichhronot kedai she-yavo lefanai zichroneichem le-tovah u-ba-meh? Be-shofar."

While the words of Rabah resonate in Tosafot's pointed articulation of the need for a Shabbat outlet for tekiat shofar, they also assume additional significance in its light. One might have conceived of shofar's contribution to the triad of malchiyot-zichronot-shofrot in purely functional terms as an effective, optimal, even ideal but hardly indispensable vehicle through which to convey the substantive content of zichronot to the Melech. Tosafot's insight imparts that shofar is a medium that shapes and redefines the message. The fact that shofar redefines, even transforms the message and that it transcends its role as merely a medium can be demonstrated by the Torah's designation (in parshat Pinchas) of Rosh Hashanah as "yom teruah". This depiction, alongside "yom ha-zikaron", dominates our tefillot.

Indeed, aside from the Shabbat outlet (the Temple, or sanhedrin), and in eras like our own in which there is no venue that will allow for shofar on Shabbat, it is noteworthy that we continue to project the message of zichronot in conjunction with the absent shofar, its ideal method of communication! When the gemara considered the possibility that shofar's suspension on Shabbat was rooted in biblical law, it cited as its source the phrase "zichron teruah", the description of Rosh Hashanah in Emor, the primary parshah of the moadim. Although that perspective was subsequently rejected by the Talmud, it is still our practice, based on massechet Sofrim, to formulate the kedushat ha-yom of Shabbat-Rosh Hashanah, in tefillah and birkat ha-mazon, as "zichron teruah"!

There are various (and, probably, interrelated) factors that underpin shofar's special status as a medium that recasts its message. There is much evidence that tekiat shofar is a form of prayer. Rav Soloveitchik conceived this perspective to be a major theme of Rosh Hashanah. The fact that ideally we integrate the blowing of the shofar into the Mussaf prayers on Rosh Hashanah underscore this theme. Yet, shofar is far from conventional prayer which focuses on the verbal articulation of needs and aspirations. Shofar constitutes inarticulate prayer, a piercing note conveying torrents of different, even contradictory impulses, as well as the ineffable. It constitutes the more subtle but also more powerful kol demamah dakah that can transcend rational expression. The Talmud explains that teruah means "yevava", a cry that it is identified either with a more measured sighing-groaning (shevarim-genuchei ganich) or with uncontrollable staccato sobbing (teruah-yelulei yalil) or the seemingly incompatible combination of both. When zichronot are transmitted by means of the shofar not only is the experience different, the content-substance is affected, as well.

Furthermore, the act of tekiat shofar integrates seamlessly the entire gamut of human and halachic emotions and experiences. R. Saadia Gaon enumerates ten different themes of the shofar. They range from ecstatic heights to trembling-fear, from inspired awe to joyous celebration. The fact that this range is compressed into a single note and that all of these dimensions are relevant, even trenchant on this special day accurately captures the special kedushat ha-yom of Rosh Hashanah. In this sense, it is truly a "yom teruah".

Moreover, tekiat shofar is perceived as an act of rtizui and avodah, akin to the sacrificial rite. Perhaps this is so precisely because it is a singular form of communication with Hashem and because it embodies the integrative expression of many crucial dimensions of religious life. The gemara (R.H. 26a, see also Ramban's derashah on R.Hl) explains that one cannot utilize a cows horn as a shofar because of the principle of "ein kateigar naseh saneigar - a prosecutor cannot become a defender" (referring to the sin of the golden calf). The gemara explains that while this principle may apply only to service in the inner precincts of the Temple (the bigdei kehunah of the kohen gadol on Yom Kippur cannot contain gold), shofar is judged by these standards since it transmits the message of zichronot ("keivan de-lezikaron hu ke-lifnim dami."). Once again, the Talmud accentuates that the shofar's unique method of bearing the zichronot qualifies it as having an elevated halachic status. Some Rishonim (Ritva Sukah 10a, 30a) argue that shofar may qualify for the disqualification of mizvah ha-baah be-aveirah because it constitutes an act of ritzui-worship. Possibly, the original special allowance of shofar on Shabbat, specifically in the Temple, is connected to this association of shofar and avodah. (See also, Rabad , on the Rif , Sukkah 43b who argues that the pesukim in Emor imply that ideally shofar should be practiced within the Temple framework! The Mikdash also serves as the ultimate prayer venue- "ki beiti beit tefilah yikarei le-kol ha-amim".)

Finally, the piercing sound of the shofar is a catalyst for introspection and renewed halachic commitment. The Rambam eloquently captures this theme in Hilchot Teshuvah (3:4) with his stirring depiction of the shofar's message of "uru yesheinim mi-shinatchem" (awaken from your spiritual slumber) galvanizing man to combat and overcome insidious spiritual complacency. When Klal Yisrael's zichronot are imparted by the shofar, they provide an ambitious framework for halachic renewal and maximalism

Given the transformational impact of the shofar in conveying zichronot, it is unsurprising that the halachah expended every effort to manifest at least some expression of "yom teruah yihiyeh lachem", even on Shabbat -Rosh Hashanah. In this respect, the mitzvah of shofar inspired greater urgency than lulav. When it was not possible to sufficiently protect against the risk of Shabbat desecration, it was still vital to accentuate tekiat shofar's contribution to and expansion of zichronot. The Emor phrase "zichron teruah" on Shabbat -Rosh Hashanah encapsulates the substantive impact of the medium on the message.  It emerged as the focal point of Shabbat -Rosh Hashanah, challenging us not only to remember the shofar but to ensure that our zichronot continue to reflect the shofar's high spiritual and halachic ambition, even in its absence.

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