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Isha Bekia

ROSH HASHANAH: Why can’t we perform the mitzvah of shofar on Shabbos?

Sep 18, 2020 | Chaggim


Our sages said that the shofar should not be blown on a Rosh Hashanah that falls out on Shabbos because it may lead to the breaking of Shabbos laws. This teaches us just how important Shabbos is in our lives. And as this year, Rosh Hashanah – the first day of the new year – begins on a Shabbos, let us make 5781 the year that we grow and we develop our connection to Shabbos and we make it even more central to our lives.

Sometimes we make the most powerful statement by not doing something or by not saying something. And this year, as the Jewish people, we are making the most powerful statement by what we are not going to be doing on Rosh Hashanah. The first day of Rosh Hashanah falls on Shabbos this year, and we will not be blowing the shofar, even though the Torah instructs us to blow the shofar. It is a mitzvah to blow the shofar. But we are only going to blow it on the second day, because the first day is Shabbos. Yet the Torah instructs us to blow the shofar on the first day as well, so why can’t we do it?

The Talmud explains that our sages instituted that the shofar should not be blown on a Rosh Hashanah that falls out on Shabbos because it may lead to the breaking of Shabbos laws. It may lead to a situation where a person needs to learn how to blow the shofar, or they may carry the shofar in an area that doesn’t have an eruv, which would involve a transgression of the laws of Shabbos. In order to protect the sanctity of Shabbos, our sages of the Sanhedrin ruled that the shofar would not be blown when Rosh Hashanah occurs on Shabbos.

Just think about that for a moment – in the Torah, Hashem says blow the shofar, and then the Rabbis of the Sanhedrin come and say, no, don’t blow the shofar because you may come to break Shabbos. We know through the Oral Torah that Hashem gave jurisdiction to the Rabbis of the Sanhedrin to intervene in order to protect the Torah itself. So they had the legal jurisdiction to do that. But think about this for a moment: we are not blowing shofar, which is this incredibly powerful mitzvah on the day, the very mitzvah that spurs us on to repentance on Rosh Hashanah.

It is also the mitzvah that brings us great merit in the eyes of Hashem, because the Gemara says when we blow the shofar, we remember the greatness of Isaac, our forefather, who was prepared to sacrifice himself to Hashem completely: It reminds us of the incredible inspiration that comes from total dedication to doing the right thing, total dedication to the will of Hashem, total dedication to being good people, total dedication to our Divine mission in this world and total dedication to everything that is good and right as Hashem has shown us. So, the shofar brings all of this powerful spiritual energy into the world. It brings an energy of positivity towards our judgment in the eyes of Hashem, and yet our sages – using the mandate that G-d gave them – said that we don’t blow the shofar on Shabbos because it may lead us to break Shabbos.

What are the chances of this happening? How often could it cause us to break Shabbos? The sages ruled that even on the off-chance that this possibility could occur, we should not blow the shofar on Shabbos. This is incredibly significant – just think about what that says about the power of Shabbos and how important it is. Shabbos is so sacred and so special that even on the off-chance that it could lead to the desecration of Shabbos, our sages set aside the blowing of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah if it falls on Shabbos.

This should give us pause for reflection when we are thinking about the new year and what we can do to deepen our connection to Shabbos – protecting it and making sure that its sacred energy, its love, its warmth, its faith is really at the centre of our lives in the most powerful way. The Meshech Chochma says that our sages, by instituting the prohibition of blowing the shofar on Rosh Hashanah when it falls on a Shabbos, were actually performing an act of tremendous self-sacrifice on the part of the Jewish people because we rely on the shofar. The shofar is there to inspire us to repentance. It’s there to bring us closer to Hashem. It’s also there to help us find favour in the eyes of Hashem at this time of judgment, because it is a reminder of the incredible dedication of Isaac, our forefather, and it is a reminder of the incredible merit of generations of Jews who showed total dedication to Hashem.

So, on a spiritual level, the shofar helps us to find favour in the eyes of Hashem at this time of judgment, our sages say. Yet, we gave this up for the sake of Shabbos, because, as the Meshech Chochma explains, Shabbos is about declaring that Hashem created this world. It is about declaring our faith in Him as our Creator. It is about testifying that He is the Master of the Universe, that Shabbos is so important to Him, and to us, and therefore we made that sacrifice to give up the shofar for the sake of Shabbos. He says that in return, Hashem regards the merit of us keeping Shabbos on first day Rosh Hashanah as an incredible merit to come before Him at this time of judgment. So, we sacrifice, we give up the merit of the shofar in order to be totally dedicated to Hashem and to make a declaration about the importance of Shabbos, and Hashem responds by saying that He will see our dedication to Shabbos as giving us the same merit as hearing the shofar. And that kind of beautiful, reciprocal relationship between us and G-d, says the Meshech Chochma, stands at the heart of so much of what we do.

He points out the Gemara that says that in our tefillin, we declare the unity of Hashem: “Shema Yisrael, Hashem Elokeinu, Hashem Echad”. We declare that G-d is One. There is also a heavenly pair of tefillin – G-d’s tefillin. In this heavenly tefillin, the verse is: “Who is like your people Israel, one nation in the world.” We are declaring His unity, He is declaring our unity. We are declaring our love for Him, He is declaring His love for us. It is that sense of reciprocity, of mutual love – that we set aside shofar because we care so much about the declaration of faith that Shabbos makes in the world. And Hashem cares so much about us that He regards our Shabbos as giving us the same merit as the shofar on that first day of Rosh Hashanah.

So friends, as we prepare for Rosh Hashanah this year, remember that on first day Rosh Hashanah, perhaps one of the most powerful statements we are going to make is not about what we are going to do, but about what we are not doing. Then think about how we can all make Shabbos a deeper, more connected part of who we are – that 5781 should be the year of Shabbos. Rosh Hashanah, the first day of the year, starts on a Shabbos – so let us make this the year that we grow and we develop our connection to Shabbos and we make it even more central to our lives. Let us keep it and protect it and celebrate it and connect ourselves to Hashem on Shabbos, and to our families, and to ourselves, and make it a sacred, uplifting and inspiring day each and every single week – let this be the year of Shabbos.

I want to wish everyone a shana tova umetukah, a good year and a sweet year, ketiva v’chasima tova – may we be written and sealed for a year of health and of healing, of goodness and of blessing.