Rosh Hashanah, Shofar, and Akeidas Hadaas

Dabeir el Bnei Yisrael leimor, “Bachodesh hashevii b’echad lachodesh yihyeh lachem Shabbason zichron teruah mikra kodesh” (Vayikra 23:24)

The Gemara in Rosh Hashanah (29b) points out that Parashas Pinchas (Bamidbar 29:1) refers to Rosh Hashanah as Yom Teruah — the day of blowing the shofar, while Parashas Emor describes it as Zichron Teruah — a remembrance of shofar blasts. The Gemara explains that Parashas Pinchas is discussing a scenario in which Rosh Hashanah is observed during the week and the shofar is sounded. Parashas Emor, on the other hand, refers to a year when Rosh Hashanah is on Shabbos, on which there are no shofar blasts but only the remembrance of them, as the Sages forbade the shofar to be blown on Shabbos.

This enactment was made due to a concern that a Jew may be unfamiliar with the proper way to blow the shofar. In order to learn how to do so, he may carry it to the house of the Rabbi, in the process violating the prohibition against carrying in the public domain on Shabbos.

Although this would indeed be a tragedy, why did the Sages deny everybody else this invaluable merit simply because one Jew may carry it to a Rabbi to learn how to blow it? After all, the Gemara in Rosh Hashanah (16b) teaches that blowing the shofar has the tremendous effect of confusing and silencing the Satan, and of invoking the Akeidah as a merit for us on the crucial Day of Judgment.

Harav Shimon Schwab answers this question by explaining that Avraham Avinu actually had two different tests at the Akeidah. The first trial was the concept of the Akeidah itself, of potentially losing his beloved son and spiritual inheritor, Yitzchak. As difficult as this test was, Avraham was fully prepared to pass it, in fulfillment of what he believed to be Hashem’s instructions to him. However, at the last possible moment, just as Avraham was about to kill Yitzchak, an angel climactically called to him and told him to stop (Bereishis 22:12).

Rashi writes that when Avraham heard this he responded that, at the very least, he wanted to nick Yitzchak and draw a little blood as a partial fulfillment of the mitzvah. The angel replied by telling Avraham not to touch Yitzchak at all. This was Avraham’s second test, which he also passed.

When Rosh Hashanah arrives, we get excited to perform the lofty mitzvah of blowing the shofar, both to fulfill the Torah’s commandment and also because of the tremendous merits that it creates for us at such a critical time. However, when Rosh Hashanah falls on Shabbos, we adhere to the Sages’ enactment forbidding us to blow the shofar.

Rav Schwab explains that this is, in fact, a perfect parallel to the challenge faced by Avraham at the Akeidah, where he yearned for the opportunity to perform an unparalleled mitzvah, yet willingly relinquished it to obey the angel’s instructions. In essence, by not blowing the shofar to invoke Akeidas Yitzchak, we are in fact remembering the Akeidah by following in Avraham’s footsteps.

Rav Schwab refers to this concept as akeidas hadaas, the binding of the mind, and he uses it to explain the suffering and travails of Iyov. When the all-merciful Hashem caused Iyov to suffer terribly, for reasons that he couldn’t begin to fathom or understand, he responded by “tying up” his intellect and subjugating it to Hashem.

Iyov acknowledged that he couldn’t comprehend why a loving G-d would subject him to such anguish, yet he simultaneously bowed his head to accept Hashem’s will. Many times in life we desperately want something, yet for reasons that appear completely incomprehensible, Hashem orchestrates circumstances to prevent us from attaining it. In such trying times, as we struggle to understand Hashem’s will, we should remember Avraham and Iyov and strive to emulate their akeidas hadaas.

Q: The Torah commands us (21:8) to sanctify the Kohanim and to treat them respectfully, giving them precedence in all spiritual matters. If a Kohen and a Yisrael ask a mohel to circumcise their sons on the same day, is there a mitzvah to circumcise the son of the Kohen before the son of the Yisrael?

Q: Can a person fulfill his obligation to count the Omer (23:15–16) by writing that day’s count on paper?

A: The Keren Orah cites the Yerushalmi which rules that if a Kohen and a Yisrael both want to bring voluntary offerings, the Kohen offers his first. This teaches that he has precedence for all mitzvos, and his son is therefore circumcised first. Although some claim that the Kohen baby should not have precedence because the Magen Avraham maintains that the obligation to honor a Kohen doesn’t apply to minors, Harav Shlomo Kluger argues that the father also performs a mitzvah and makes a blessing over it and therefore goes first. However, he adds that this is only applicable if both babies are already present. If the Kohen has not yet arrived, the Yisrael baby should be circumcised without waiting for the Kohen.

A: Harav Akiva Eiger and the Chasam Sofer maintain that one cannot perform the mitzvah by writing the daily count on paper. The Shaarei Teshuvah concurs and explains that even according to the opinion that writing something is the equivalent of saying it for legal purposes, this is only the case when the writing can be viewed as sufficient to establish one’s thoughts or intentions. However, when the mitzvah itself is the words that one speaks, it is clear that one cannot fulfill the mitzvah through writing.

Harav Ovadia Yosef, zt”l, quotes the Shu”t Zichron Yehudah (Orach Chaim 146), who maintains that if a person forgot to count one day of Sefirah but did mention the day’s count in writing, he may continue to count future days with a blessing.

He reasons that because there are two causes for doubt: Perhaps the law is in accordance with the opinion that each day of counting is a separate mitzvah and perhaps the law is that one can fulfill his obligation in writing. The combination allows one to be lenient and continue counting with a blessing on future days. However, for all practical legal questions, a Rav should be consulted.


Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.