Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center

Parashat Va-yelekh/ Shabbat Shuvah 5769/ October 4, 2008

Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of Bar- Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies, Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center, and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet under the sponsorship of Bar- Ilan University's International Center for Jewish Identity. Prepared for Internet Publication by the Computer Center Staff at Bar-Ilan University. Inquiries and comments to: Dr. Isaac Gottlieb, Department of Bible,



Rosh Hashanah 5769


Rabbi Judah Zoldan


Midrashah for Women

The Sages made two unique rulings concerning the commandments of the shofar:   increasing the number of blasts required by the Torah and canceling the Torah’s commandment to blow the shofar when the New Year falls on the Sabbath.

Increasing the number of shofar blasts

The Sages deduced that the Torah commands us to hear nine blasts on the shofar on the New Year.   Due to uncertainty arising in the course of long years of exile as to the correct way of blowing the teruah, the practice became to blow thirty blasts, in order to cover all possibilities (Maimonides, Hilkhot Shofar 3.1-3).  In time many communities developed the custom of sounding the shofar one hundred times, thirty de-meyushav (“of the seated series”) before the Musaf service, thirty de-meumad (“of the standing series”) during the silent recitation of Musaf, thirty during the cantor’s repetition of Musaf, and another ten at the end of Musaf.

Canceling the shofar blowing when the New Year falls on the Sabbath

When the New Year falls on the Sabbath, the shofar is not blown, the reason being that “everyone is obligated by the commandment to blow the shofar, but not everyone is expert at doing so.  It was decreed [that one should not blow on the Sabbath] lest someone take it [the shofar] in his hands to an expert in order to learn, and thus find himself carrying it four cubits in the public domain” (Rosh ha-Shanah 29b). [1]

Regarding the Sages’ ruling increasing the number of shofar blasts beyond the requisite number deduced from the Torah, Tosafot ask whether this does not violate the principle of not adding to the commandments (Rosh ha- Shanah 16b; 28a), noting the Torah’s words, “Be careful to observe only that which I enjoin upon you:  neither add to it nor take away from it” (Deut. 13:1).   Ostensibly it might seem that adding shofar blasts is equally forbidden as adding a fifth plant to the “four kinds,” or adding another passage to the four passages enclosed in phylacteries, etc.  The Tosafot responded to this query as follows:   “It must be said that the principle of not adding is not germane when it comes to performing a single commandment two times, as in the case of a priest who blesses a public assembly and repeats this act, blessing them again himself, or a person who blesses the lulav repeatedly.  Likewise with blowing the shofar repeatedly.”  In other words, a commandment which must be performed once may be performed any number of times without violating the principle of not adding to the commandments.

Rabbi Solomon ben Aderet (Rashba) had a unique answer: “When it comes to a takkanah which the Sages perceive as necessary, there is no issue of not adding, for the Torah instructs us to act ‘in accordance with the instructions given you.’”   According to him, “neither add” applies to cases where a person adds something to a commandment on his own counsel, such as a priest adding a blessing of his own, but does not apply to legislation by the Sages.  The same applies to the prohibition against taking away (Hiddushei ha-Rashba le-Rosh ha-Shanah 16a):

The same applies to the principle of not taking away when there is a compelling need.  For example, when the New Year falls on the Sabbath, even though the Torah says to blow the shofar, the Sages ruled that it not be blown, and this is by necessity.  Similarly, they viewed it as necessary to repeat the shofar blasts, and we are commanded to obey the words of the Sages by virtue of the principle of "not deviating" [Deut. 17:11].   So it seems to me.

Rashba drew a connection between the two rulings – increasing the number of shofar blasts and canceling the shofar blowing on the New Year when it falls on the Sabbath.  According to him, the prohibition against adding or taking away does not apply to takkanot legislated by the Rabbis. [2]

Rashba’s analysis was challenged by Rabbi Aryeh Leib of Metz (Turei Even, Rosh ha- Shanah 16b), arguing that the prohibition not “to take away” applies in cases where a person performs a commandment but not in its entirety, as in having only three passages in his phylacteries rather than the ordained four, or three varieties in a lulav.   But when a commandment is not performed at all, this is not a matter of  'doing less' but of altogether abrogating a mitzvah! 

The argument Turei Even made against Rashba was resolved by Rav Kook, from whom we learn an important principle regarding the prayers and blowing of the shofar on the New Year.  According to Rav Kook, (Etz Hadar ha-Shalem, par. 15), Rashba’s remarks should be explained in the light of the words of his teacher, Nahmanides:

Nahmanides wrote (on Leviticus 23:2:  “These are the fixed times of the Lord, which you shall proclaim as sacred occasions”) that the commandment of proclaiming the holiday a sacred occasion stems from the Torah, that is, to gather together in order to pray is the fulfillment of the mitzvah " you shall proclaim as sacred occasions". It would seem that this is a commandment given to the general public, and might not be obligatory on each individual ….   Therefore, gathering together to pray and sound the shofar on Rosh Hashanah is how we proclaim a sacred occasion on the day of zikhron teruah, "commemoration with blasts." Once we begin praying, we have embarked upon this mitzvah to proclaim the day, and if the Rabbis said not to blow the shofar on the Sabbath, this is an abrogation of part of the commandment, but not a cancellation of the entire mitzvah [as claimed by Rabbi Aryeh Leib of Metz].

Thus, argues R. Kook, not blowing the shofar when the New Year falls on the Sabbath would constitute a violation of the prohibition to detract from a mitzvah (ve-lo tigre'u), were it not for Rashba’s explanation that a regulation of the Sages is not considered an act of detraction.


Proclaiming the Lord as King on the New Year, in Prayer and Public Blasts

Despite Rabbi Kook's stress on the public nature of the prayers and shofar on Rosh Hashanah, individuals who are not in a community are also obliged to hear the shofar, although the full performance of the commandment is done in a community, with the people of one’s city (Rosh ha-Shanah 34b).  “The public must hear the shofar blasts along with the benedictions … but as for individuals, if they hear with or without the accompanying blessings, either standing or seated, they have fulfilled the commandment (Maimonides, Hilkhot Shofar 3.7-12).

In his Bible commentary (Harhev Davar, Lev. 23:24), Rabbi Naphtali Tzvi-Yehudah Berlin (Netziv) explains the distinction between the nature of the shofar blowing in public and by an individual.  The commandment of shofar has two aspects, one being to bring us to repentance, which also occurs in the context of individual blowing.   The other aspect is to proclaim the Lord as King of the Universe, the way a king’s coronation is accompanied by shofar blasts (see I Sam. 10:24), and this is only done in public.  “The Holy One, blessed be He, brings His Glory to reside among Israel, and He is proclaimed King in the liturgical service of Malkhuyot, Zikhronot, and Shofarot.”   In tractate Rosh ha-Shanah 16a we read:

The Holy One, blessed be He, said:   On the New Year recite before me Malkhuyot (passages about kingship), Zikhronot (passages about the Lord remembering) and Shofarot (passages about the shofar). Malkhuyot, so that you proclaim Me as your King; Zikhronot, so that I remember you for good; and how is this to be done?  With the Shofar.

In the Temple, the shofar was blown even when the New Year fell on the Sabbath, for the King was coronated each and every year on the New Year, in His "palace". Outside, the Temple, however, the Rabbis cancelled shofar blowing on the Sabbath for the reason given above. In the Temple, the manner of blowing was also special (Mishnah, Rosh ha-Shanah 3.3-4):

The shofar that was used for the New Year was made of the horn of a wild goat, straight, with its mouth overlaid in gold, and two trumpets were on either side.   The shofar sounded the long notes and the trumpets the short, for the commandment of the day devolved on the shofar.

Only in the Temple was the blowing done this way, and the Sages rebuked those who wanted to do so outside the limits of the Temple (Rosh ha-Shanah 27a):

It was said by Rabba, and some say by Rabbi Joshua ben Levi:   From what verse do we learn this?   Since it is written:   “With trumpets and the blast of a shofar raise a shout before the Lord, the king” (Ps. 98:6).  Before the Lord [meaning within the Temple grounds] the king, trumpets, and shofar are to be sounded, but not anywhere else.

Blowing on trumpets in the Temple is the loftiest expression of worshipping the Lord.  It was the practice to sound trumpets on all the festivals, when the daily sacrifice was being made (Maimonides, Hilkhot Klei ha-Mikdash 3.5):

On all the festivals and on the new moon days the priests would sound trumpets while the sacrifice was being made, and the Levites would sing, for it is said:   “And on your joyous occasions – your fixed festivals and new moon days – you shall sound the trumpets over your burnt offerings and your sacrifices of well-being.  They shall be a reminder of you before your G-d, I, the Lord, am your G-d” (Num. 10:10).

However, on the other festivals trumpets were sounded only when the daily sacrifices were being made, whereas on the New Year trumpets were sounded also to accompany the shofar blowing.  Rabbi Kook's student, Rabbi David ha-Cohen, known as the “Nazirite Rabbi,” wrote:  Shofar blowing is primarily to be done in the Temple, as part of the sacrificial service there, the way trumpets used to be sounded over the sacrifices” ( Kol ve-Or, Jerusalem 1994, p. 60).  He means to say that blowing the shofar in the Temple on the New Year was part of the Temple worship for that day, and not within the realm of the commandment to sound the shofar.   Aside from the additional mussaf sacrificial offerings given on the New Year, over which trumpets were blown as on other festivals, trumpets were blown also to accompany the shofar because the shofar blowing in the Temple was considered equivalent to offering a public sacrifice in the Temple.   Just as trumpeting accompanied the sacrifice of the day, so too it accompanied the shofar blowing.

The shofar blowing has one other aspect, in addition to the two mentioned above:   “Blasts of  tekiah and teruah are blown when the people are seated, and blasts of tekiah and teruah are blown when the people are standing, and this is in order to confuse Satan” (Rosh ha- Shanah 16b).  The many different sorts of blasts would sound to him like the announcement of the arrival of the Messiah, in whose time the kingdom of the Lord will be fully revealed.


[1] According to the Jerusalem Talmud (Rosh ha-Shanah 4.1), blowing the shofar on the New Year when it falls on the Sabbah is not a commandment explicit from the Torah.  See in my book, “ Teki’at shofar ba-Mikdash u-va- Medinah u-le-Ahar ha- Hurban,” Mo’adei Yehudah ve-Yisrael, Merkaz Shapira 2004, pp. 47-65.

[2] See further:  Maimonides, Hilkhot Mamrim 2.9 and Rabad, loc. sit.; Rabbi Judah Ha-Levi, Kuzari 3.40.  Many of the aharonim (later rabbinic authorities) have commented on these remarks of Tosafot and Rashba, including Rabbi Joseph áŕá"ă , Minhat Hinnukh, commandment 354, sect. 3-5; Rabbi Joseph Dov Ha-Levi Soloweitchik, Beit Ha-Levi, Part I, sect. 42; Rabbi Naphtali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin, Resp. Meshiv Davar, Part I, sect. 36, and in Ha’amek She’elah, q. 53.4; Rabbi Tzvi Pesah Frank, Mikrai Kodesh Yamim Nora’im, pp. 66-67; Rabbi Yisrael Yaakov Kanyevsky, Kehilot Ya’akov, Tractate Rosh ha-Shanah, sect. 9-10.