It’s game time! For thirty days, we’ve been blowing shofar and reading awe-inspiring pesukim from Tehilim 27. A week ago, we began waking up slightly earlier (or staying up until midnight) reciting selichot, invoking G-dly midot harachamim at un-G-dly hours, in order to prepare for a merciful judgement. Today, we woke up even earlier to daven an even longer selichot, and the immediacy of the day of judgment fueled an even stronger tefilah. We prayed shemoneh esrei, final ashrei, shir shel yom, and then… we jumped straight to “ledavid Hashem” (Tehilim 27), without blowing the shofar.
This may seem a little bit counterintuitive at first. If the month of Elul is an awakening process culminating in Rosh Hashana, wouldn’t it make sense to blow more blasts of the Shofar on Erev Yom Teru’ah? Chazal’s famous answer is even more counterintuitive- “to fool the satan,” they wrote. By not blowing shofar on Erev Rosh Hashana, we theoretically put the Yetzer Hara “at ease,” so that it won’t be ready to prosecute when it counts on the Day of Judgement.
For anyone with an even mildly skeptical bone in his body, this is a difficult answer to swallow, even on the most simplistic levels. Straightforward, even childish questions, begin to emerge — how could the Satan forget every year when Rosh Hashana is? Hasn’t he been around for long enough not to be fooled by this trick anymore? Even on a slightly more intellectual level, maybe we shouldn’t even be afraid of the satan –– if we go into Rosh Hashana feeling confident enough to tell Hashem that we are worthy of life, then we certainly shouldn’t have a problem inviting the prosecutor to the party!
Rav Binyamin Kwalwasser, the mashigach ruchani of Yeshivat Lev Hatorah and a rebbe of mine, offers a deeper insight into this idea of “fooling the prosecutor.” When speaking about the Satan, we’re not talking about your run-of-the-mill red entity with horns and a spiked tail, but rather the Yetzer Hara inside of us.
This evil inclination constantly uses different methods to mislead us into sin, and one of its best tactics is to convince us that we’ve plateaued in spiritual growth, and can’t go any further. It’s also known that we are in greatest danger of this right before reaching our goals, making the day before Rosh Hashana an ideal time for our personal Satan’s to target us. “You’ve been blowing shofar and praying hard for a month already,” he whispers in your ear, “what is missing one day?” And, before you know it, the momentum is gone, leaving us in serious danger of losing sight of our goals right before judgement day.
In order to avoid this, Chazal instituted the practice of not blowing shofar on Erev Rosh Hashana, to fool the satan in each of us, so that when we don’t hear the loud blasts of the horn, we’ll realize that something is different on this day, and keep on pushing ourselves on the final homestretch.
It is interesting to note that, there is another place in Judaism where this concept of “fooling the prosecutor (satan)” is mentioned. Rav Teichtel, in Em Habanim Semecha, writes that the slow process of the unfolding of the ge’ulah is happening in such a backhanded, unlikely way (through a non-religious state), so that the prosecuting angels won’t know to come before Hashem to tell Him that we aren’t worthy of redemption, until it’s too late for the process to be stopped. If G-d was preparing to drop the Third Bet Hamikdash from the sky, which a lot of our brethren believe is the exclusive method of Mashiach, then it would be more difficult to justify this if all of the Jewish People weren’t 100% worthy. But, by hiding kibutz galuyot behind a secular state, run by numerous Jews whom many would consider to be resh’aim, Hashem has effectively started a covert process which will culminate in our redemption, but by the time it becomes obvious that this is the direction, it’ll be too late stop it.
Just as before, you may ask yourselves; is this really necessary? Why are we so worried about the prosecuting angels stopping the coming of the mashiach? Just as G-d can grant us a good year despite the protests of the satan, surely He can also allow the ge’ulah to come, even if the prosecuting angels complain that we’re not ready yet.
I believe that once again, the satan mentioned here is our personal yetzer hara. If the Mashiach and the Third Bet Hamikdash would show up in Jerusalem overnight, we could lose the momentum of our avodat Hashem– after all, most of our daily prayers and mitzvot are centered around beseeching Hashem for redemption. If it would all just happen instantly, then we might lose momentum in our avodat Hashem, and, G-d forbid, fall short and not take the last step of making the move to Eretz Yisrael. If our prayers were just answered, the satan could easily convince us that what had happened was in fact not the ge’ulah, and it could delay or even stop the final step of the redemption, which will be the easiest to complete, yet most vulnerable to delay.
Hashem therefore decided to “fool the prosecutor” by creating the atchalta dege’ulah, in the hope that this would keep us from losing the momentum of teshuva in this final chapter before the end. Our challenge, just as on Erev Rosh Hashana, is to not look at Israel and think that she’ll always be there, but rather to see her incompleteness, like the lack of shofar blowing today, as a reminder that we are so close but not there yet.
With Hashem’s help, each of us will take the messages of both of these instances of “fooling the yetzer hara” to heart, and, in the zechut of this teshuva, we’ll all merit a happy and healthy new year, an answer to each and every one of our prayers today, and the end of our painful exile very very soon. Shana Tova and Ketiva V’Chatima Tova!