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Q & A: ‘Bal Tosif’ And The Shofar Blasts (Part I)


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QUESTION: I do not understand the practice of blowing so many extra blasts of the shofar, as is done in most synagogues on Rosh Hashana. Is that not in violation of the command bal tosif, as stated in Deuteronomy (13:1), “You shall not add to [G-d's command-ments]“?
Elliot Solomon
(Via E-Mail)
ANSWER: As we shall show throughout our discussion, there is no problem of bal tosif (the prohibition against adding to the mitzvot, based on the above-mentioned verse in Devarim 13:1, as well as Devarim 4:2, which states: “Do not add to that which I [G-d] command you”) in regard to the “extra” shofar blasts that we correctly blow. However, first we will review an earlier discussion to specify the number of shofar blasts required on Rosh Hashana.That discussion is based in part on the concise essay of Harav Yosef Grossman, zt”l, in Otzar Erchei Hayahadut (p. 446), with some additions regarding the 100 blasts.

The main mitzva of the day of Rosh Hashana is the blowing of the shofar. Indeed, in the Torah the day is referred to as one of blasting the shofar, “yom teruah” (Parashat Pinchas, Bamidbar 29:1) and “zichron teruah, a remembrance of the shofar blasting” (Parashat Emor, Vayikra 23:24). We find that the purpose of the blasting of the shofar is to serve “le’zikaron lifnei elokeichem… – As a remembrance before your G-d” (Parashat Beha’alotecha, Bamidbar 10:10).

Indeed, we find the following in the Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 39:3): “When Hashem rises to sit upon the throne of judgment, He rises with the intent of judgment … but when the Israelites take their shofarot and blast before Hashem, He arises from the throne of judgment and sits on the throne of mercy.’

In the Talmud (Rosh Hashana 16a) we find an explanation for the power of the shofar. Rabbi Abbahu asks, Why do we blast with a shofar of an ayil (a ram’s horn)? Says the Holy One, Blessed Be He, Blast before Me with a ram’s horn in order that I remember the binding of Isaac, son of Abraham [on the altar], and I will thus consider it as though you have bound yourselves [on the altar] before Me.

We also find in Parashat Beha’alotecha (Bamidbar 10:9) that the shofar blasting serves as a prayer for heavenly help in time of need: “Vechi tavo’u milchama be’artzechem al hatzar hatzorer et’chem vahare’otem bachatzotzrot, venizkartem lifnei Hashem Elokeichem venosha’tem me’oyveichem – And if you go to war in your land against the enemy that oppresses you, you shall blast on the trumpets and you shall be remembered before Hashem your G-d, and you shall be saved from your enemies.”

In Tehillim (98:6) we find that the blasting of the shofar elevates the glory of the kingship of Hashem so that it is the most exalted upon the land, as the verse says, “Bachatzotzrot vekol shofar hari’u lifnei hamelech Hashem - With trumpets and the sound of the shofar, call out before the King, Hashem.”

Rambam (Hilchot Teshuva 3:4) states that while the blowing of the shofar on Rosh Hashana is a Biblical decree (Bamidbar 29:1), it also has another message: “Wake up, you sleepy ones, from your sleep, and those in lethargy, arise from your slumber. Search your ways and return with repentance and remember your Creator…”

As to the order of the blasts of the shofar, the Mishna (Rosh Hashana 33b) explains that first there are three sets of three types of sound each – a tekiah, a teruah, and a tekiah. We repeat this set three times. We derive this from the hermeneutic principle of gezera shava. The word “shevi’i” (the seventh [month]) is stated regarding Rosh Hashana and applies as well to Yom Hakippurim of Yovel, the Jubilee year, and vice versa. “Teruah” is mentioned three times in the Torah in relation to holidays, twice in reference to Rosh Hashana – in Parashat Emor (Vayikra 23:24), “In the seventh month, on the first of the month… a remembrance of teruah,” and also in Parashat Pinchas (Bamidbar 29:1), “And in the seventh month, on the first of the month … there shall be a day of teruah for you.” The third mention of teruah is found in Parashat Behar (Vayikra 25:9) in relation to Yom HaKippurim of the Jubilee year: “You shall sound a shofar blast of teruah in the seventh month, on the tenth of the month, on Yom HaKippurim of the
Jubilee shall you sound the shofar.”

The Gemara (Rosh Hashana 33b) explains that we derive from this last verse in Parashat Behar that every teruah requires a tekiah before and after, since the verse states “…a shofar blast of teruah … shall you sound the shofar…” [shofar is in this case representative of the one-note tekiah blast]. Thus we blow tekiah, teruah, tekiah, and this is the requirement according to the Torah.

However, since our sages (ibid. 34a) were in doubt as to whether the teruah is a sobbing sound [which would require tekiah, teruah, tekiah] or a moaning sound [which would require tekiah, the three sounds of the shevarim - (lit. broken sounds or blasts - and tekiah], it was decided to combine them to create tekiah, shevarim-teruah, tekiah. This became the enactment of Rabbi Abbahu in Caesarea.

We thus blow a set of tekiah, shevarim-teruah, tekiah (TaShRaT) three times, a set of tekiah, shevarim, tekiah (TaShaT) three times, and a set of tekiah, teruah, tekiah (TaRaT) three times - for a total of 30 blasts.

In the weekday Shemoneh Esreh we recite 18 (19 when we include Ve’lamalshinim) blessings, and on a holiday we recite seven: the first three blessings are, as always, Avot, Mechayyeh Hameitim and Kedushah, and the last three, as always, Hamachazir Shechinato Letziyyon, Hoda’ah and Shalom [the middle one is the blessing of kedushat hayom]. On Rosh Hashana we add an additional three blessings: Malchuyot (kingship), Zichronot (remembrance), and Shofarot (shofar blasts). It is at the conclusion on these three blessings that we blow the shofar in the repetition of the Shemoneh Esreh, thus they are called the tekiot di’me’ummad, blasts [blown] when standing, which are separate from the tekiot di’meyushav, blasts [blown] when sitting (which also number 30) that precede the Shemoneh Esreh.

In some congregations we find a third set, the tekiot belachash, the blasts blown when we are reciting the silent Shemoneh Esreh.

Our present-day order of TaShRaT, TaShaT, TaRaT for each series in tekiot di’me’ummad and the additional 30 blasts at the conclusion of Mussaf follows the custom of the Shelah, (as cited by the Baer Heitev, Orach Chayyim 592:1), who differs with both the Mechaber and the Rema. [The Mechaber indicates TaShRaT for Malchuyot, TaShaT for Zichronot, and TaRaT for Shofarot, while the Rema posits TaShRaT for all three.]

Insofar as today’s practice of blowing 100 blasts - 30 are actually sufficient. In fact, my good friend Rabbi Yaakov Spivak, Rosh Kollel Aishel Avraham, recalls that when HaRav Yaakov Yitzhak Halevy Ruderman, zt”l, Rosh Hayeshiva of Yeshiva Ner Israel in Baltimore, was sick in bed on Rosh Hashana, he asked Rabbi Spivak, his student at the time, to blow the shofar for him. Not wishing to cause undue inconvenience, Rabbi Ruderman noted that 30 blasts would be sufficient.

Even so, we find that as a general rule we blow 30 blasts before the Shemoneh Esreh, another 30 during the repetition of the Shemoneh Esreh, and another 10 following the Shemoneh Esreh, during the Kaddish. Following that, there are an additional 30 blasts - as we noted, some congregations follow the custom of the Arizal and blow those 30 blasts in the silent Shemoneh Esreh – thus totaling 100 blasts.”

Now we are left with a question: If 30 blasts are indeed sufficient, why do we blow an additional 70 and, if so, why are those not considered to violate the bal tosif, as you ask?

(To be continued)

About the Author: Rabbi Yaakov Klass, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at yklass@jewishpress.com.


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