Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Intent and purpose in blowing the shofar

There is in interesting and deliberate juxtaposition of two Mishnayos in the third perek of Rosh Hashanah. The first Mishna discusses how someone is able to accidentally fulfill the mitzvah of hearing the shofar. If he was passing by, or lived by, a synagogue and heard it, he fulfills.

ג,ה  [ו] שופר שנסדק ודבקו, פסול; דבק שברי שופרות, פסול.  ניקב וסתמו--אם מעכב הוא את התקיעה, פסול; ואם לאו, כשר.  [ז] התוקע לתוך הבור או לתוך החדות או לתוך הפיטס--אם קול שופר שמע, יצא; אם קול הברה שמע, לא יצא.  וכן מי שהיה עובר אחורי בית הכנסת, או שהיה ביתו סמוך לבית הכנסת, ושמע קול שופר, או קול מגילה--אם כיוון ליבו, יצא; ואם לאו, לא יצא:  אף על פי שזה שמע וזה שמע, זה כיוון את ליבו וזה לא כיוון.
Now, the Mishna says im kiven libo. Which would appear, at first glance, to rule out accidental hearing. However, the gemara (daf 28b) clarifies that what this means is intent to hear the sound, but not that he even recognized that it was the sound of the shofar. Rather, he might have thought that it was the sound of a donkey braying. The very next Mishna has a midrash inexplicably embedded into it:

ג,ו  [ח] "והיה, כאשר ירים משה ידו--וגבר ישראל . . ." (שמות יז,יא), וכי ידיו של משה עושות מלחמה או ידיו שוברות מלחמה:  אלא כל זמן שהיו ישראל מסתכלין כלפי מעלן, ומכוונין את ליבם לאביהם שבשמיים--היו מתגברין; ואם לאו, היו נופלים.  כיוצא בדבר אתה אומר "ויאמר ה' אל משה, עשה לך שרף . . ." (במדבר כא,ח), וכי הנחש ממית ומחיה:  אלא כל זמן שישראל מסתכלין כלפי מעלן, ומשעבדין את ליבם לאביהם שבשמיים--היו מתרפאין; ואם לאו, היו נימוקים.  חירש שוטה וקטן, אין מוציאין את הרבים ידי חובתן.  זה הכלל--כל שאינו חייב בדבר, אינו מוציא את הרבים ידי חובתן. 

Here is the famous statement that by the bronze snake, it was not the snake (Nechushtan) which healed, but the focus of the Bnei Yisrael on their Father in Heaven. So too in the battle against Amalek, it was not Moshe's uplifted hands, but rather the focus caused by Moshe's uplifted hands, that the Bnei Yisrael focused on their Father in heaven.

Finally, a cheresh, shotah or katan, who don't have the requisite daas, cannot blow.

Is there any connection between the midrash and the surrounding dinim? I can spot three possibilities.

(1) Taking the simplest explanation, rather than that proposed in the gemara, we actually need thought and intent to fulfill the mitzvah. This is not some magic ritual which wins the day for us, but intent is required, because the entire purpose it to direct us to our Father in heaven.

(2) Taking the explanation of the gemara, that no intent is required. As a result, we might mistakenly believe that fulfilling the strict dictates of the commandment are all that is required. Hear the 9 blasts, or now, the 30 blasts or 100 blasts, and you are set. But this would be missing the point. Yes, it is important to fulfill the mitzvah because it is a mitzvah, but to fulfill the ratzon haBorei, and perhaps to end up with a good result, fulfilling the literal dictates of the mitzvah is not enough. As it states in Amos 3:6:

ו  אִם-יִתָּקַע שׁוֹפָר בְּעִיר, וְעָם לֹא יֶחֱרָדוּ; אִם-תִּהְיֶה רָעָה בְּעִיר, וַה' לֹא עָשָׂה.6 Shall the horn be blown in a city, and the people not tremble? Shall evil befall a city, and the LORD hath not done it?

That might be a trumpet of war, rather than a ritual shofar, yet it expresses the idea, that the purpose is that people will take it to heart and tremble, and do teshuva.

(3) There is a matching-up of the words im kiven libo in the first Mishna with umechavnin et libam in the second Mishna. This is then a peirush of the words im kiven libo. Then, insert the sentiments of (1) and (2).

This Rosh Hashanah, may we not only fulfill the requirements of a kosher shofar-blowing and hearing, but may we take it to heart, and turn our hears to Avinu she-ba-shamayim, and may this taking to heart accomplish what it is meant to accomplish.


afinkle221 said...

We have a teachable moment (if fleeting) to tell the story of Shofar. Its influence on prayer and its historical antecedents going back to the Temple sacrifices.

For full explanation, of Shofar, its influence on prayer and its historical antecedents going back to the Temple sacrifices.
go to



Shofar Sounders WebPage


Shofar WebPage


Z said...

Thank you very much for this beautiful vort and for all the great articles you post throughout the year. Your hard work is greatly appreciated by myself and I'm sure many others.

Have a Git Gebencht Yuhr!

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

I had the same peshat, and I actually gave this same basic idea over for my devar Torah the first night of Rosh Hashana.


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