Shofar, Shabbos and Kedushah

It’s been a while! Eleven years since Rosh Hashanah last fell on a Shabbos. Each time it occurs we are astounded by the extraordinary gezeirah of Chazal enjoining us to desist from performing a precious, once-a-year mitzvah — a mitzvah that thrusts our pleas for compassion and our declaration of His sovereignty before the Divine throne. And why? Because there is something even greater than this powerful mitzvah of shofar. This commanding mitzvah, equivalent to the holiest moment in the year, when the Kohen Gadol enters the holiest place on earth on behalf of the holiest people, has something greater than it. That something is kedushas Shabbos. Even greater than tekias shofar, that holiest zenith, is something even more holy: Shabbos Kodesh.

Shabbos, the day that comes once a week, 52 times a year. Chazal tell us, stop! Don’t perform this rare mitzvah of shofar, which can be most challenging to perform, and can be performed only on those two days in the entire year. Stop! Because maybe someone will forget or be overcome with enthusiasm to perform the once-a-year mitzvah of shofar and as a result end up desecrating the once-a-week mitzvah of Shabbos. What a powerful lesson. An impressive message on how we have to treat Shabbos.

The Mashgiach Ruchani of Lakewood yeshivah, Harav Mattisyahu Salomon, shlita, explains that one can be a shomer Shabbos but even more than that, one should strive to be a mekadeish Shabbos. Treat that day by acting with the highest level of holiness it deserves, with our dress, our speech, our activities and our behavior.

A person can be a shomer Shabbos and desist from violating any issurei Shabbos. One who is a shomer Shabbos certainly will reap the rewards of Olam Haba (“shomrei Shabbos v’korei oneg”). Nevertheless there is an even higher level. A mekadeish haShabbos (mekadshei shevii) is someone who infuses his Shabbos and home with Torah and avodah and all-encompassing kedushah.

Be that as it may, let us look at some of the situations that may arise and have arisen in the past with the intersection of Shabbos and shofar.

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In 1870 Harav Akiva Yosef Schlesinger, a talmid of the Ksav Sofer, moved from Hungary to Yerushalayim, and on numerous occasions attempted to revive the blowing of the shofar on Shabbos. Substantial arguments supporting his position were presented by Harav Schlesinger each year in which the first day of Rosh Hashanah fell on Shabbos. Harav Schlesinger argued that there was no reshus harabbim d’Oraysa at the time and presented other arguments derived from the Rif and the Ramban. The Ramban held all of Yerushalayim was to be considered as the Beis Hamikdash eternally, while the Rif held that one blows despite it being Shabbos. By the way, as a result of the Rif’s psak, Moroccan Jews in his time did in fact blow on Shabbos.

Notwithstanding these arguments, and claims that some of the great Gedolim of Yerushalayim in his time supported his idea, Harav Schlesinger met with huge opposition and his controversial plan to blow shofar before a qualifying beis din on Shabbos Rosh Hashanah never materialized … and Chazal’s message of the great kedushah of Shabbos still stood.

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At the Ninth Daf Yomi Siyum HaShas held at Madison Square Garden in 5750, my Rebbi, Harav Shimon Schwab, zt”l, declared that the Daf Yomi participant (and similarly all who seriously delve into Shas) “gains a greater conviction that the Tanna’im and Ammora’im are very much like malachim, bringing us messages b’Shem Hashem. Harav Schwab then gave an example. “Whenever Rosh Hashanah falls on Shabbos and we are ready and eager to carry out the Divine commandment of tekias shofar, suddenly, like a malach min haShamayim the great Rava appears as an emissary of the Tanna’im, who had in turn been responsible for transmitting the message of Hakadosh Baruch Hu, and tells us, ‘Don’t do it! Today is Shabbos! Blowing shofar is prohibited. Maybe someone will carry the shofar daled amos in reshus harabbim.’ Thus the words of the sainted Sages are as Heavenly dictates” from Hashem.

We find the Ritva emphasizes this even further. Even though today we have a fixed calendar, still Hillel declared that we still cannot blow on Shabbos.

How then, asks Harav Yosef Chaim, the Ben Ish Chai, can we gain all the benefits created through tekias shofar on Rosh Hashanah? How can we generate the same ruchniyus advantages gained before the Heavenly court in Shamayim? Similarly, asks the Ben Ish Chai, how do we gain all the chassadim we receive from shaking the lulav if we are prevented from nitilas lulav when Sukkos falls on Shabbos?

He expresses this idea about the primacy of Shabbos: Shabbos takes precedence. Chazal wished to teach us how great the kedushah of Shabbos is. So much so, says the Ben Ish Chai, that the kedushah of Shabbos accomplishes everything that we would have gained through actually blowing the shofar, and in the case of Sukkos, through taking the lulav in hand. It all comes to us automatically through Shabbos, and requires no action on our part!

Amazingly, continues the great Rav Yosef Chaim, the Rav of Baghdad:

אך זה הטעם הוא סוד ונסתר ולא יספיק להמון ישראל, ולכן הוכרחו לעשות טעם אחר לגזרתם, והוא שמא יעבירנו ד’ אמות ברשות הרבים

This great idea of the holiness of Shabbos and its effects in the Heavenly spheres is so exalted that it could not be understood by the general public. Therefore Chazal decreed that the reason for not blowing on Shabbos is that perhaps someone will carry the shofar four amos in reshus harabbim.

And not only that! Chazal, in their classification of the melachos of Shabbos, classify the melachah of carrying, a melachah geruah, a lesser classification of work. For all practical purposes the classification doesn’t change the seriousness of the issue. But on that very melachah, a melachah geruah, Chazal say stop and don’t blow!

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A fascinating and puzzling find, possibly related to this topic was reported in a 2009 publication. Two avid hobbyist historians and travelers searched the basement storage room in a Bulgarian Sephardic shul in Sofia, discovering a trio of very old shofaros that had strings carefully wound around part of the barrel of the shofar. The discoverers, Dr. Ari Greenspan and Dr. Ari Zivotofsky, in an innovative conjecture, ponder whether the string is related to an ancient minhag in Eretz Yisrael that involved tying a shofar to a pole to get around the issue of shema yaavirena, the fear of carrying the shofar in a public domain on Shabbos. In a recent correspondence with Dr. Greenspan, who is a noted dentist in Yerushalayim, he suggested “it may have been a remembrance of the minhag in ancient Eretz Yisrael to tie it to a pole so you will not carry it on Shabbat.” I was unable to retrace the source.

The strings wrapped around the shofaros could also indicate attempts to make lengthwise cracked shofaros valid to use on Rosh Hashanah, if there was no other shofar to use. This last-resort “repair” method is mentioned by the poskim. It’s not clear if the string around the shofaros found in Bulgaria was unraveled when they were found.

The same publication discussed a minhag to blow on Shabbos Rosh Hashanah described in a piyut found in the Cairo Genizah in the ancient Ben Ezra Synagogue in Fustat, dating back to medieval Cairo.

“The changes described here — tying the shofar to a pole and blowing it without touching it — were to underscore the unique circumstances of Rosh Hashana on Shabbat, so the shofar could be blown without worrying how it got to the synagogue.”

In recent correspondence with Dr. Greenspan, he advised that the identity of the exact Genizah document where this was found could not be recalled.

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There is a lively discussion among the Acharonim as to whether someone who actually violates the directive not to blow on Shabbos is in fact mekayem the mitzvah or not. Does the edict of Chazal go so far as to void any attempt to perform the mitzvah? The practical application of this would be whether or not a Shehechianu made by the person who blew on Shabbos is effective, or meaningless.

So why then is it permitted to perform a bris on Shabbos? Should we not be afraid the utensils of the mohel will be carried in reshus harabbim as we are for the shofar. This question was addressed by the Baalei Tosafos, Rav Yitzchak Alfasi (Rif) and Rav Nissim of Gerona (Ran). They explain that bris is a mitzva chamurah, of extreme stringency, and in a class by itself. Only the mohel who is an expert in the halachos related to milah performs it. In contrast, everyone is preoccupied with performance of the mitzvah of shofar and Shabbos could be violated, chas v’shalom.

Shabbos is a foundation of Yiddishkeit. Shofar is an assurance to arouse divine intervention on our behalf for the coming year. In fact, Chazal tell us that a year without tekias shofar is foreboding. How can we reconcile the two seemingly opposing forces?

Harav Yaakov Yukov Ettlinger, known as the mechaber of the Aruch Laner, in his Minchas Oni on Chumash addresses this question by use of a great, thought-provoking mashal:

The minister of a king violated the trust of his regent with an egregious act against the king’s authority. This serious violation of trust angered the king and he ordered that the minister be placed on trial. The king demanded that the judges prosecute the offender to the full extent of the country’s laws. The minister, realizing the seriousness of the charges, sought out the best advocates he could find in the kingdom to stand in his defense at the trial. But to no avail; one potential advocate after another turned the minister down. Each one said it was a hopeless case. There was no defense. A guilty verdict was assured. Seeing the desperate situation, the minister told his wife the entire story and the very bleak outlook. His wife, obviously a forbearing optimist, comforted him and said, “What are you worried about? Why are you so pessimistic and bleak? I will go to the king’s palace and defend you in front of the king and the judges! The boundless ahavah that ties us together will rise up and will be able to evoke an epic defense for your cause.” And so it was. The spouse’s defense was so convincing that her beloved husband was acquitted.

Not long after this occurred, another minister broke the law and violated the trust of the king. The minister’s friends and relatives told him that he had better find a good person to advocate on his behalf. However, recalling the defense tactic of his fellow minister before him, this second minister solicited his wife to defend him in court. She, as well, will valiantly speak on my behalf and I too will win an acquittal, he thought.

Vayehi hayom. The day of the trial arrived. The minister and his wife confidently went to the palace for the trial. This second minister though, was different from the first. The second minister had a terrible temper and was prone to become very angry and have violent outbursts. When his wife arose to argue his case, the tribunal noticed that the wife had visible welts, bruises and wounds. The judges demanded to know why she appeared so. The woman became flustered and tried to deflect the question. However, one of the court attendants spoke up and said those were marks of mistreatment by her cruel and violent husband. The King was outraged. He said to the woman, “How can you rise and advocate the defense of that man? Your very being stands in prosecution of this minister. The case was lost, and the minister was found guilty as charged.

Explains the Aruch LaNer, in a year when Rosh Hashanah falls on a weekday, we have the sound of the shofar to rise up in our defense and deflect the accusations in the Heavenly court. The shofar confounds the prosecution and stands as our defender. But when Rosh Hashanah falls on Shabbos we don’t have that protector. We have no shofar to rise up in our defense. We are like the first minister. What do we have? The beloved spouse of Klal Yisrael, Shabbos Kodesh, rises up in our defense.

As it says in the Midrash, the beloved Shabbos is the defender of Klal Yisrael. Shabbos goes out in front of the throne of the Ribbono shel Olam. It intercedes between Yisrael and Hashem, as it says in the passuk: “Beini uvain bnei Yisrael os hee l’olam.” Then our aveiros are erased.

The day we honor and treat with meticulous care, utmost love and respect — the Shabbos — then stands up in defense in front of the throne of the Master of the Universe, as it did on the very first Shabbos after the creation of man.

But what if we mistreat the Shabbos? What if the Shabbos is not observed with the kedushah it deserves? What if we have been callous in the way we treat Shabbos? What if we have carried more than daled amos in a questionable domain? Like the wife of the second minister, a mistreated Shabbos will evoke the outrage of the King and will be unable to stand up and defend us.

The Chasam Sofer * expresses the same yesod. Yes, even for a slight chance of violating Shabbos we desist from tekias shofar. The Shabbos itself will protect us. We can expect that, however, only if we venerate Shabbos by acting, dressing and behaving in a respectful manner.

Harav Yisroel Mantel, shlita, of K’hal Adath Yeshurun, recently explained poignantly; “Shabbos is not to get lost in, Shabbos is to find yourself.” How does one venerate Shabbos? How does one find himself? Through Torah and Kedushah.

When Yirmiyahu Hanavi was told to warn Bnei Yisrael about the observance of Shabbos, the very melachah mentioned in that warning was that of carrying. Dayan Yishai Hakohen Grunfeld, zt”l, explains that by abstaining from carrying we acknowledge that Hashem is our Master in the sphere of human society. The Dayan briefly echoes the masterful and eloquent elucidation of Harav Shamshon Rephael Hirsch,. Through the issur to carry we realize Hashem’s presence and purpose, and this places His seal on our lives. In the same vein, in the great teshuvah gathering described in sefer Nechemia, Shabbos is singled out as a separate law, because as Harav Schwab explains in his peirush on this passuk: “by keeping Shabbos one has aligned himself with the Jewish people and their core faith.”

Shofar is the core of Rosh Hashanah. Shabbos is the core of Klal Yisrael. Not carrying is the core of Shabbos. As we enter the new year without the defense of the shofar, let’s defend ourselves through our commitment to Shabbos. Let’s be mekadshei Shabbos so that Shabbos will defend the Am Kadosh.

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*  Netzavim, d.h. Vchaim shaalu. The Chasam Sofer says that we are protected from the negative effects of not blowing shofar, by observing the gezeirah instituted by Chazal. However, someone who violates in general the gezeiros of Chazal cannot expect to be protected, despite that fact he observes this gezeirah of not blowing. Such a person who disregards Chazal, would chas v’sholom be unprotected in a year when Rosh Hashanah falls out on Shabbos.