Ari Sacher

‘Father and King’ Rosh Hashanah 5784

Why do we blow the shofar on Rosh Hashanah? Clearly the primary reason is because the Torah refers to Rosh Hashanah as [Vayikra 23:24] “A remembrance of [Israel through] the shofar blast (Zichron Teru’a)”. Perhaps a better question is “Why does the Torah mandate blowing the shofar specifically on Rosh Hashanah?” Any even better question would be “Was it really necessary to even mandate blowing the shofar on Rosh Hashanah?”

The Rambam, writing in Hilchot Teshuva [3:4], explains why the shofar is blown on Rosh Hashanah: “Even though the sounding of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah is a decree, it contains an allusion. It is as if [the shofar’s call] is saying: ‘Wake up, sleepy ones, from your sleep, and you who slumber, arise! Inspect your deeds, repent, remember your Creator. […] Look to your souls. Improve your ways and your deeds and let every one of you abandon his evil path and thoughts.”

The shofar is a call to repentance. It is especially pertinent to Rosh Hashanah, which happens to be the Day of Judgement. But there is an additional reason to blow the shofar. As the Jewish People prepared to travel to the Land of Israel, G-d commanded Moshe to fashion two silver horns. These horns had a dual purpose. On one hand, they were used to direct traffic. If Moshe were to blow a continuous blast – a “tekiah” – then the Jewish People were to assemble in front of the Tent of Meeting, ready to break camp and move out. If Moshe were to blow a staccato “teruah”, the people were to begin moving. There was a second reason that the silver horns were blown [Bemidbar 10:9-10]: “If you go to war in your land against an adversary that oppresses you, you shall blow a teruah with the trumpets and be remembered before G-d, and thus be saved from your enemies. On the days of your rejoicing, on your festivals and on your new-moon celebrations, you shall blow on the trumpets for your ascent-offerings and your peace sacrifices, and it shall be a remembrance before your G-d”.

In times of trouble, we must blow a teruah and in times of happiness we are to blow a tekiah. Rabbi Jacob Tzvi Mecklenburg[1], writing in “HaKetav veha’Kabala”, explains the mechanism in which blowing the horns works: A person hears the sound of the horn, he is shocked into submission[2] and he turns to G-d for salvation. But wait a minute – isn’t that same reason the Rambam brought for blowing the shofar? Moreover, the silver horn is blown in order that we should “be remembered before G-d” and Rosh Hashanah is referred to above as “a remembrance of [Israel through] the shofar blast”. This could not possibly be coincidental. And now that you mention it, the silver horns were also sounded “On the days of your rejoicing, on your festivals and on your new-moon celebrations”. While Rosh Hashanah’s identity as a festival is questionable[3], people tend to forget that Rosh Hashanah falls on the first day of the month of Tishrei, making Rosh Hashanah a “New Moon (Rosh Chodesh)”. Putting the two verses together, it is clear that we should be blowing horns on Rosh Hashanah, both as a sign of joy and as a sign of fear. Why, then, must the Torah mandate blowing the shofar on Rosh Hashanah when we would have already done so on our own[4]?

How many shofar blasts must we hear on Rosh Hashanah? Most congregations blow one hundred blasts. Nevertheless, the core obligation, the minimum number of blasts that we are required to hear, is nine. The Talmud in Tractate Rosh Hashanah [33b] rules that we must hear a minimum of three “teruot” and each teruah must be both preceded and followed by a tekiah. The Talmud mandates this “teruah sandwich” by implementing principals of hermeneutics. Our Sages in the Midrash use similar logic to teach that the blasts of the silver horns that directed traffic in the Sinai Desert were also “teruah sandwiches”. Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch[5] proposes a more utilitarian reason: A tekiah was sounded to prepare the nation for travel, a teruah was sounded to send them on their way, and a second tekiah was sounded to indicate that their destination had been reached. I suggest that the Rosh Hashanah “teruah sandwich” can be explained in a similar utilitarian fashion that can offer fresh insight[6].

The Talmud in Tractate Ta’anit [25b] tells the story of a terrible drought. All the great rabbis prayed unsuccessfully for rain but as soon as Rabbi Akiva said, “Our Father, our King, we have no king other than You. Our Father, our King, for Your sake, have mercy on us”, and the skies began pouring rain. What is so magical about the words “Our Father, our King”? Man and G-d interact on many different planes. On one hand, G-d is our King and we are his subjects. The prophet Isaiah [44:6] says, “So said G-d, the King of Israel […] ‘I am first and I am last, and besides Me there is no God’”.

On the other hand, G-d is our Father and we are His children [Devarim 1:31]: “You have seen how G-d has carried you just as a man carries his son”. Which of the two relationships do we prefer? Most people would choose the warmth, the closeness and the love of the father-son relationship. A parent will never abandon his child, no matter what the child has done. So why do we even bother with the stuffy and distant king-subject relationship? One day, my oldest child, who was about five at the time, came down with acute appendicitis. We were in the hospital, just the two of us, waiting for test results and we had both reached our braking points. She looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, “Abba, I just want to go home”. So do I, I told her, but there was nothing I could do. I had never felt so helpless and so worthless.

Parents will do anything for their children but sometimes “all they can do” is not enough. This is where a king comes in. There is nothing a king cannot do. A father will always try to help, but a king will always succeed. And this is precisely what we express when we turn to “Our Father, our King”. We recognize that G-d is everything: both Father and King, Judge and Legislator and Executor. There are no Divine checks and balances. But precisely because of this, G-d can change the rules of the game in our favor. He can forgive and He can even forget. When we refer to G-d as “Our Father, our King” we are asking G-d to show us the love of a father and the power of a king, to rescue us with His omnipotence, even if we are undeserving. When Rabbi Akiva approached G-d with these words, He had no other choice but to give rain.

This dual father-king relationship is reflected in the sounds of the shofar. There is a tension between the joy of the tekiah, sounded on “our festive days”, and the fear of the teruah, sounded when we prepare for “an adversary that oppresses you”. Our High Holidays are typically spent sitting around the table together with our extended family but when the enemy is at our gates, we turn to our king for support as our father runs into the bomb-shelter along with the rest of the family and waits for the all-clear sign. The Rosh Hashanah “teruah sandwich” slaps us in the face with the realization that our Father is also our King and our King is also our Father. Love and fear, power and passion, merge into one.

Each day of Rosh Hashanah we repeat a verse from the prophet Zachariah [14:9] no less than eleven times: “G-d will be the King over the entire world, on that day G-d will be one and His name will be one”. Only when we understand that G-d is both our Father and our King will He rain upon us blessings without end.

Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5784

Please daven for a Refu’a Shelema for Yehuda ben Tzivia, Sheindel Devorah bat Rina, Hila bat Miriam, and Rina bat Hassida.

[1] Rabbi Mecklenburg lived in Germany in the 19th century.

[2] The sound of the air raid siren, heard all too often in Israel, is eerie. Since I first heard an air raid siren in the First Gulf War in 1991, it has never ceased to evoke a visceral sense of fear.

[3] Rabbi Eliezer Melamed writes in Peninei Halacha [Rosh Hashanah 4], “There is a mitzva to rejoice on Rosh Hashana by eating meat and drinking wine. It, too, is therefore called a ‘festival’ […] However, since it is also a day of teruah and judgment, the level of happiness is not the same as on the rest of the festivals.”

[4] There are a number of obvious answers to this question, first and foremost that the silver horns that Moshe blew in the desert were man-made and the shofar that we blow on Rosh Hashanah is naturally sourced, see the commentary of Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch on Vayikra 23:24] at length. Nevertheless, there are seventy facets to the Torah and this essay will explore another one of them.

[5] Rabbi Hirsch lived in Frankfurt am Mein in the nineteenth century

[6] The following explanation is heavily based on a shiur given by my wife, Dr. Tova Sacher.

About the Author
Ari Sacher is a Rocket Scientist, and has worked in the design and development of missiles for over thirty years. He has briefed hundreds of US Congressmen on Israeli Missile Defense, including three briefings on Capitol Hill at the invitation of House Majority Leader. Ari is a highly requested speaker, enabling even the layman to understand the "rocket science". Ari has also been a scholar in residence in numerous synagogues in the USA, Canada, UK, South Africa, and Australia. He is a riveting speaker, using his experience in the defense industry to explain the Torah in a way that is simultaneously enlightening and entertaining. Ari came on aliya from the USA in 1982. He studied at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, and then spent seven years studying at the Technion. Since 2000 he has published a weekly parasha shiur that is read around the world. Ari lives in Moreshet in the Western Galil along with his wife and eight children.
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