The Gemara in Masekhet Rosh Hashanah (33b) draws a curious association between the shofar sound and a verse in Sefer Shoftim (5:28) describing the weeping of the mother of Sisera, a Canaanite general who waged an unsuccessful battle against Benei Yisrael. Targum Onkelos (Bamidbar 29:1) translates the word “teru’a” – the word used by the Torah in reference to shofar blowing on Rosh Hashanah – as “yevava,” which the Gemara links to the prophetess Devora’s description of Sisera’s mother’s cries: “va-teyabeiv.” Devora envisions Sisera’s mother anxiously looking out the window, awaiting her son’s triumphant return from battle. As time passed, she grew increasingly fearful that tragedy struck – which is, indeed, what had happened. The word “va-teyabeiv” is the basis for the Gemara’s interpretation of the word “teru’a” as referring to a crying sound.
Tosafot, citing the Arukh, extend this association even further, claiming that the widespread custom to sound one hundred shofar blasts on Rosh Hashanah commemorates Sisera’s mother’s cries. Tradition teaches that she wept one hundred times, and we commemorate these cries by producing one hundred sounds with the shofar. Many different explanations have been offered for the point of connection between the sounding of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah and Sisera’s mother’s weeping as she peered in vain through the window.
The Tolna Rebbe offers an especially creative approach, one which focuses on the subsequent verses in Sefer Shoftim, that speak of the attempts made by Sisera’s mother’s advisors to calm her fears. Devora imagines them assuring Sisera’s mother that Sisera had not yet returned because he and his troops were busy dividing the spoils looted from Benei Yisrael. Not knowing that Sisera’s army had been vanquished, these advisors sought to comfort Sisera’s mother by depicting Sisera as making his way home laden with riches. The Tolna Rebbe suggests that when Tosafot speak of Sisera’s mother weeping one hundred times, this means that she was repeatedly consoled by her advisor’s assurances, stopping her weeping until more time elapsed, when she would resume crying only to be consoled again. Over and over again – one hundred times – her fears were falsely eased by the prospect of her son coming home a fabulously wealthy man. This incident, the Tolna Rebbe noted, reflects the power of greed, how a person plagued with a lust for material wealth can never feel satisfied, and always desires more. The comfort Sisera’s mother experienced each time she imagined her son collecting additional spoils testifies to her insatiable desire for wealth, how nothing brought her more joy and satisfaction than the promise of vast amounts of riches.
This, the Tolna Rebbe explained, might be the reason why the sounding of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah is linked with the story of Sisera’s mother. Rosh Hashanah celebrates the day of man’s creation, offering us the exciting opportunity for rebirth and renewal as we begin the new year. The first human beings, Adam and Chava, were given the entirety of Gan Eden – except for one tree, and they easily succumbed to the temptation to partake of the fruit of that one tree. As we celebrate our “re-creation,” we are to commit ourselves not to repeat this mistake, to enter the world content and satisfied with all that God has given us. We are to begin our new lives feeling grateful and gratified over all we have, rather than constantly feeling deprived and displeased. Our process of renewal on Rosh Hashanah must include our renewed gratitude and appreciation, so that the coming year will be one of joy and contentment, when we celebrate all that we have, rather than focusing on what we do not have.