Q: As a ba’al tokei'a (shofar blower), I am asked to go to sick people’s homes to blow for them. It can be very difficult to make it to everyone. Must I go to everyone, including women, who are not obligated in the mitzva of shofar?
A: There are points in this matter that are difficult to quantify or find clear halachic guidelines. We will try to put the matter in proper, halachic perspective.
The mitzva to hear the shofar on Rosh Hashana is a personal one, even though it is usually performed publicly. If one cannot go to shul, he is responsible to arrange to hear it elsewhere, assuming he is well enough to do so, and should be willing to spend money to facilitate it. (See Eretz Hemdah I, 1:7 and Moadim U’zmanimI, 4 regarding how much money/toil one is required to put out in order to fulfill a mitzva. In the final analysis, this is a somewhat subjective determination).
In order to perform a mitzva on another’s behalf, the one who performs it must be obligated in the mitzva. Yet, even if one already fulfilled the mitzva, the fact that his friend is obligated in the mitzva makes him obligated enough to perform the mitzva on his friend’s behalf (Rosh Hashana 29a). This is based on the concept of arvut (responsibility to help one’s counterpart with his halachic obligations) (Rashi, ad loc.). The practical parameters of this obligation are unclear. However, “conventional halachic wisdom” is that one does not have to expend as much to ensure his friend’s fulfillment of a mitzva as his own. The question of these parameters applies not only to money, but, as in this case, to toil and curtailing the enjoyment and mitzva of a festive meal after a long day in shul, as well. In theory, a ba’al tokei'a can demand monetary compensation for the toil of making such “house calls.” We suggested this concept to a mohel who was asked to spend Shabbat away from home under difficult conditions in order to perform a Shabbat Brit (B’mareh Habazak I, 32). In practice, we assume that under normal circumstances, one would agree to blow shofar for free on Rosh Hashana even if it is inconvenient.
So, while one who is capable of blowing shofar for the homebound has a responsibility to do so, it is hard to determine how much he has to extend himself, at least for free, to do so. Another pertinent factor is that a community is likely to have more than one person who is capable of blowing. If so, this lowers the responsibility on any given ba’al tokei'a, especially if he has already done his share (see B’mareh Habazak, ibid.). Even less talented ba’alei tokei'a can and should share the task of going to hospitals and house-to- house if they can do a valid job.
The Torah indeed exempts women from the mitzva of shofar (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 589:3). Consequently, although we assume that there is arvut between men and women, there is none where the woman is not obligated herself (see Shut R. Akiva Eiger I, 7). However, the minhag has been for centuries that women make every effort to fulfill the mitzva of shofar. (See Shulchan Aruch ibid.:6 regarding the b'racha.) There are discussions over whether the fact that women regularly practice this mitzva obligates them to continue doing so, as a form of neder (vow) (see Magen Avraham 489:1 regarding the counting of the omer). If it does, others would be required to help fulfill this new obligation. However, a woman’s possible obligation is less likely in a case where illness makes it difficult to fulfill the mitzva. Rav Ovadia Yosef (Yabia Omer, II, OC 30) rules that at least if the situation is temporary, a sick woman is exempt during her incapacitation without requiring a special hatarat nedarim (absolution of vows).
In most cases, though, the ba’al tokei'a is not practically “off the hook” from helping a sick woman hear shofar blowing. To the contrary, even if she is exempt, she has a right to ask for a chesed to enable her to continue her lifelong practice. If for no other reason, one must normally accommodate her with such a visit because of the mitzva of bikur cholim (visiting the sick).
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Moshe's declaration to the assembled Israelites comes at a most pivotal moment in our history and contains a most vital message. After forty years in the wilderness, the Israelites are about to enter Eretz Israel. This is the new generation physically toughened by the austere life of the desert and spiritually sensitized by exposure to the teachings of the Torah and by having witnessed the partial fulfillment of God's promise.
This generation is about to face new and painful dangers and challenges; the uncertainties of a changing leadership, years of warfare, a strange culture, a different sedentary way of life. Through- out Sefer D'varim Moshe had addressed them as a collective, "all of you". Now, however, Moshe turns to them and reminds them that ultimately we stand before God as individuals ("each person Israel"), each one responsible and accountable for his or her decisions and actions. As they make their way into the land, each individual will have to choose his profession, his particular way of life and what to emphasize in worshiping God.
Diaspora Jewry today finds itself similarly challenged. You too have been witness to a clear and dramatic fulfillment of a central part of the prophetic promise. Over five million Jews have returned to a sovereign Jewish state in Eretz Israel. The Jewish character of the state will be determined during the next few years by the number and religious quality of the people living there.
As we near the completion of the reading of the
Torah and approach the days of Judgment, every individual Jew is standing
before God. Precisely because in our day, Torah authorities do not agree
what sort of mitzva is Yishuv Eretz Yisrael and whether ours is a time of
the beginning of the redemption, each individual must make his own decision.
Will you be among those who seize the opportunity to come to live in Israel
and help to shape its future? The decision and the responsibility is yours
and yours alone.
He would say, "I wish that I could attain the
level of the average Jew. The average Jew, when Elul arrives, spends less
time on his job and more time in learning Torah and doing good deeds. But
when Elul arrives, I spend more time on my job and less time in learning
Torah and doing good deeds."
2) What does the Torah mean when it says LO BASHAMYIM HI (it is not in heaven) with regard to the mitzva of teshuva? (see 30:12)
3) Moshe Rabbeinu says SEE I HAVE PLACED BEFORE
YOU TODAY THE LIFE AND THE GOOD AND THE DEATH AND THE EVIL (15:30). Why does
Moshe use the word TODAY considering the fact that every word of his message
was meant for Jews in all generations?
2) The Kli Yakar explains that many people might fear that while they might take steps towards repentance, who is to say that this repentance will be accepted by G-D in the heavens? To counter this concern, Moshe explains that once we begin the teshuva process, G-D, as it were, automatically comes down to us and does not remain distant in the heavens.
3) Rav Moshe Feinstein taught, based on this
verse, that a person should never feel confident in his spiritual standing.
Every single day a person is presented with new challenges in the spiritual
realm and we can only be successful once we recognize that it is a constant
battle on a daily basis as Moshe indicates with the word TODAY.
What do these words in the pasuk mean? This metaphor from the vegetable world comes to impress upon us the dangers in even insignificant evil beginnings (SHORESH - the root). ROSH V'LAANA are two of the most bitter herbs around. They can skew one's view of reality, affect one's thinking, and can even be poisonous. According to Arama, this pasuk refers to an evil thinker who wants to enjoy the privileges of being a member of the Jewish community without having any of the duties (SHALOM YEHIYEH LI KI B'SH'RIRUT LIBI EILECH). He wants to exclude himself from the Covenant (the Brit, the responsibilities) but save himself from punishment just by being a member of the community. For this, the Torah warns, G-d will not forgive him (LO YOVEH SELOACH LO).
These beliefs are the opposite of what the Torah expects from us, says Nechama Leibowitz. Each individual is supposed to take on responsibility for the community as a whole, as we see in Rambam's Hilchot T'shuva 3,4. "Every person should regard himself the whole year round as if equally balanced between guilt and innocence. The same applies to the world as a whole. One sin can tip the scales for himself and the whole world to the side of guilt and can bring destruction down on it. If he performs but one good deed, he thereby tips the scales for himself and the whole world to the side of merit and brings salvation for himself and the whole world."
Let us hope that this Rosh HaShana the blasts of the SH-O-F-AR (the first letters, roshei tevot - scrambled a bit - of SHORESH POREH ROSH V'LEANA) will uproot these and other evil bitter beliefs and bring blessing on our whole community.
ROSH - is either hemlock or gall poppy, a species
of opium poppy seeds that grows in Eretz Yisrael. Here is a recipe for poppy
seed dressing that is good on any salad. Try it on an avocado, orange and
spinach salad for a fresh beginning to the new year.
In preparation for Court, as it were, the parsha also directs us to the all-important mitzva of Teshuva or Repentance. In essence, the Hebrew term Teshuva means "return", implying that having strayed from G-d, we must now return to Him - in thought, speech and action.
One of the most intriguing images in this week's text is found in the verses relating to our being in Exile (D'varim 30:1-5). For we are told that after contemplating the blessings and curses that transpired, not only will we find the way back to G-d, but that He, in turn, will, "bring back your captivity and have mercy on you and will gather you in from all the peoples to whom Hashem, your G-d, has scattered you."
There is a discernible repetition in this description of Hashem's act of returning the exiles. The Meshech Chochma suggests that this indicates two types of Jew. The first yearns for Eretz Yisrael and is deserving of G-d's mercy. He is the first to be returned. The other Jew seeks redemption but does not feel the loss of Eretz Yisrael. However, even he will "return" some day.
Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova, Menachem Persoff