SALT - Monday and Tuesday - Rosh Hashana 5779

  • Rav David Silverberg
See below for the next SALT
            The Gemara in Masekhet Rosh Hashanah (33b), in addressing the nature of the teru’a sound which is blown with the shofar, notes Onkelos’ translation of the word “teru’a” in the Torah as “yevava.”  The meaning of this word, the Gemara explains, can be found in Sefer Shoftim (5:28) which describes how the mother of the Canaanite general Sisera wept – “va-teyabeiv” – when her beloved son did not return swiftly from battle.  She peered out the window eagerly anticipating Sisera’s return, but as the minutes passed, she cried, fearing that he had been killed (which was, in fact, the case).  On the basis of this association, the Gemara determines that the “teru’a” sound resembles the sound of crying, and different views exist as to the precise nature of this sound.
            The Arukh extends this association further, claiming that the widespread custom to blow one hundred sounds with the shofar on Rosh Hashanah is based upon the tradition that Sisera’s mother wailed one hundred times waiting in vain for her son to return from battle.  Sisera’s mother’s cries form the basis of not only the type of sound blown as a teru’a, but also the number of shofar blasts that are traditionally blown on Rosh Hashanah.
            Several writers sought to identify the precise point of connection between Sisera’s mother’s weeping upon waiting for her son, and the Rosh Hashanah experience.  One explanation that has been offered is that Sisera, as the general of the leading military power in the region, had always returned from battle swiftly in the past.  His mother had likely grown accustomed to his son’s army soundly and easily vanquishing its foes, such that Sisera never delayed in returning home.  On the day of the Canaanites’ failed battle against Benei Yisrael, however, Sisera’s mother knew that her son’s prior phenomenal success did not necessitate the same result on that occasion. She realized that although Sisera was always victorious in the past, he might have suffered defeat during the current campaign – which was, in fact, the case.  A similar feeling of uneasiness must characterize our mindset as we stand in judgment on Rosh Hashanah.  We cannot enter the new year with the assumption that everything we’ve been given will remain with us during the coming year, that we are “owed” all the blessings we currently enjoy, and our only concern is whether we receive even more.  The concept of judgment on Rosh Hashanah means that as we start the new year, we are entitled to nothing, and must earn everything.  We should not take our current blessings for granted, and assume that we will continue enjoying them all during the coming year.  We need to earn them anew as we begin each year, and we thus implore God to judge us favorably so we will continue being worthy of His grace and kindness.
            The Gemara earlier in Masekhet Rosh Hashanah (16b) teaches, “Every year that is poor in the beginning becomes wealthy at the end.”  Rashi explains this to mean that we earn God’s assistance during the year if at the beginning, on Rosh Hashanah, we plead to God like helpless paupers.  Developing this point further, the Brisker Rav (Rav Velvele Soloveitchik) is cited as explaining that when the new year begins, we are to see ourselves as “poor” in the most literal sense of the term, as having and deserving nothing at all.  Everything we received until now was granted to us for the year that just ended; now that the new year is beginning, we must earn everything again from scratch.
            Of course, this concept has a positive, and exciting, aspect, as well.  The end of the year and the beginning of the new year offers us the opportunity to restart ourselves, as it were, to create a new beginning in our lives.  As we commemorate the creation of the world, we have a chance to create ourselves anew, to give ourselves a fresh start, and to enter the new year one step closer to being the kind of people who we should and want to be.
S.A.L.T. for Rosh Hashana 5779:
            The Mishna in Masekhet Rosh Hashanah (26a) cites the majority view among the Tanna’im that a cow’s horn is disqualified for use as the shofar on Rosh Hashanah.  The Gemara explains this ruling based on the concept of “ein kateigor na’asa saneigor” – “a prosecutor does not become an advocate.”  The shofar of a cow brings to mind the sin of the golden calf, a source of “prosecution,” so-to-speak, against the Jewish People, and it would thus be inappropriate to include it as part of our Rosh Hashanah service, as an “advocate” on behalf of our nation on this day of judgment.  The Gemara later comments that although the rule of “ein kateigor na’asa saneigor” usually applies only to rituals performed inside the Beit Ha-mikdash, it nevertheless applies to the shofar, which is sounded outside the Beit Ha-mikdash.  Since the shofar is blown “le-zikaron” – to bring our “remembrance” before God, sounding the shofar is deemed equivalent to rituals performed inside the Beit Ha-mikdash.
            In discussing this halakha, the Gemara raises the question of why the special Yom Kippur atonement sacrifices included a bull (Vayikra 16:3).  Seemingly, a bull brings to mind the sin of the golden calf no less than a cow’s horn.  Why, then, does the Torah require offering a bull on Yom Kippur for atonement, while disqualifying a cow’s horn as a shofar on Rosh Hashanah?  The Gemara answers that only the cow’s blood is brought inside the Beit Ha-mikdash (the rest of the sacrificial process is performed in the Temple courtyard), and the blood is different from the bull itself.  Once the animal has been slaughtered, and its blood was collected for sprinkling inside the Mikdash, the animal has undergone a significant enough of a change that the blood does not bring to mind the golden calf.
            The question arises as to why this logic does not also apply to the horn of a grown cow or bull, which does not resemble a young calf.  In Masekhet Bava Kama (65b), the Gemara establishes that if somebody stole a young calf, and the stolen animal remained in his possession until it reached maturity and became an adult, the thief becomes the owner.  The Torah requires returning an object which one has stolen to its owner, but only if the object has not been transformed; if it was transformed, the thief becomes the owner, and must pay the victim the value of the stolen item, as opposed to the item itself.  We might, then, ask, why is an animal’s maturation considered a significant change with respect to the laws of theft, but not in regard to the principle of “ein kateigor na’asa saneigor”?  If a thief assumes ownership of the stolen calf once it becomes an adult, why is a cow considered the same as a calf with regard to the status of its horn vis-à-vis the shofar obligation?
            Rav Yaakov Moshe Charlap (Mei Marom, vol. 7, p. 172) answered that apparently, different standards of “transformation” are required in these two different contexts.  When it comes to theft, it is sufficient for the animal to have undergone the natural process of growth and maturity for it to assume a new identity such that the thief now owns it.  But with regard to the process of atonement, a “prosecutor” must be thoroughly and fundamentally changed before it can become an “advocate.”  The natural progression from youth to adulthood does not suffice; only a complete transformation, such as when an animal is slaughtered and its blood is used for sprinkling, qualifies as a “change” to allow a “prosecutor” to be brought before God in our effort to earn atonement.
            Rav Charlap explains that symbolically, this rule shows us the extent of the “transformation” that teshuva demands.  When we come before God to ask for forgiveness, we must strive to undergo a thorough transformation, to no longer resemble in any way the person who was capable of committing the wrongs which we have committed.  Our goal must be not merely to naturally mature, but to make a proactive effort to improve ourselves, to become better people and better servants of God, wholeheartedly devoted to fulfilling His will.  The change we undergo must be intrinsic and thorough, and not just superficial and fleeting.