Silencing the Satan

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04 Sep 2018
Rosh Hashanah

Naaleh_logo Shiur provided courtesy of

Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein

We all know that Hashem commanded us to hear the sound of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah. The basic number of sounds that need need to be blown is thirty, yet we blow the shofar at a minimum of two cycles of thirty, one cycle immediately before the Mussaf Amidah and another cycle, the shofar of record, during the repetition of the Mussaf Amidah included in each section, in Malchuyot/Kingship, Zichronot/Remembrance and Shofrot. (Customs vary as to additional times the shofar is blown.) If we fulfill the mitzvah with one cycle of thirty sounds, why do we all sound the shofar an additional cycle, asks the Gemarra, and the Gemarra responds, “In order to confound the Satan.”

How is it possible to confound and confuse the Satan year after year with the same ploy? Rashi explains that by blowing the shofar an additional thirty times, we are showing our love for mitzvoth, thus nullifying the Satan’s accusations. But, Rabbi Immanuel Bernstein notes that we have also performed averos/sins. The difference, continues Rabbi Bernstein, is that by repeating and thereby displaying our love for the mitzvoth, we are showing that we value mitzvah performance and we identify it as our true essence. This evidence is what confounds the Satan and nullifies his accusations.

The Ohel Moshe, quotes Rabbi Levenstein z”l who explains this idea. When Hashem sees Bnei Yisroel doing all the mitzvoth with love, He feels like a father toward his son, and is more inclined to act favorably, thereby silencing the Satan. However, one must be careful, for doing mitzvoth grudgingly, without love, has the opposite effect. We should feel grateful for very mitzvah, for each offers us an opportunity to show our love for Hakodosh Boruch Hu and silencing the Satan. As Rabbi Moshe Schwab z”l  points out, the curses and calamities prophesied in Devorim will occur because we did not serve Hashem with gladness during times of abundance. It is not that we failed to observe mitzvoth, but that we found no joy in their observance, and displayed no love of Hashem and His Torah. The avodah/service/work of Rosh Hashanah is to generate connection to and love of Hashem.

Of the two days of Rosh Hashanah, the first is more significant, writes Rabbi Schorr in Halekach Vehalebuv, citing the Ariz”l, for on the first day we daven for our ruchniyut/spiritual life while on the second day we daven for the gashmiyut/material things. However, on both days, we need to grow in our love for Hashem, for one of the constant mitzvoth is to love Hashem with all levovcha nafshecha umeodecha/your heart, all your soul and all your resources. Taking the final letters of each of these, lev, nefesh, meod, we form an acronym for devash/honey. As we dip our challah or apple into the honey, we should internalize the knowledge that everything we have can be elevated to sweetness in love of Hashem. [Chatam Sofer z”l]

But before we think of the Satan as something “out there”, we should pay attention to what the Ra”N says, that Satan is actually the yetzer hora within ourselves. Listening to the sounds of the shofar before the Amidah is meant to put us in the proper frame of mind and eliminate our distractions that empower the Satan.

So what should we be thinking about as we listen to the shofar blasts? Rav Dov Yaffe z”l suggests that we focus on listening for the sake of observing the mitzvah with joy and by so doing to coronate Hashem as the King over ourselves and the world.

Rosh Hashanah is a day of truth. The liturgy is full of proclaiming the eternal truth of Hashem and of His word, writes Rabbi Roth z”l in Sichot Eliyahu. It is a day that we should be facing the truth of our own inner world as well. The shofar pierces the innermost part of ourselves to reach our inner truth. But who is blowing that shofar? While we may see a human baal tekiyah in our shul, continues Rabbi Roth z”l, the ultimate Baal Tekiyah is Hakodosh Boruch Hu Himself. As the Prophet Zechariah says: “Hashem will appear to them… VaHashem Elokhim b’shofar yitka/and the Lord Hashem/Elokhim will blow with a shofar…” (9: 14) We hear the sound of Godliness within ourselves that is awakened and wants to connect to its Creator. Therefore, fortunate is the nation that understand the sound of the shofar. These first shofar blast serve to silence all that comes between us and our connection to Hakodosh Boruch Hu, so that we can focus on that connection during the shofar blasts of the Amidah.

On the first day of Rosh Hashanah we read about Hagar, Avraham’s second wife, as she wandered in the desert with Ishmael, both thirsty after having finished the water they took with them. Hashem opened Hagar’s eyes so she could see a well, a well that had been there all the time but to which she had been blind. Rabbi Yoffe z”l in Shema Bni explains that we too are blinded, as Hagar was, and we ask Hashem to open our eyes so we can see the spiritual well within ourselves and draw upon its waters to come closer to Him.

Rosh Hashanah is a day destined for release from enslavement, writes Rabbi Wachtfogel z”l in Leket Sichot. It was the day we were released from our enslavement in Egypt (not the day we left), and it was the day Yosef Hatzadik was released from the dungeon. It is the day we ourselves have the power to release ourselves from the chains that shackle us to servitude to the fleeting and mundane so that we can enter the realm of kedushah/sanctity. The shofar, then, writes Rabbi Bernstein, is a reminder for the future shofar that will sound on that day when the great shofar will herald the coming of Moshiach, “And then will come those lost in the land of Ashur (Assyria) and those cast away in the Land of Miztrayim (Egypt),and they will bow down before Hashem on the holy mountain in Yerushalayim.” Homiletically, the shofar is to help us return from a life that is caught up in the pursuit of ashur/pleasure or free us from the constriction of meitzorim/dire circumstances so that we can strive for a higher calling. Sound the shofar, and create confusion in the enemy camp. Don’t underestimate the power of one small moment of tekiyat shofar, writes Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz z”l in Sichot Mussar. Free yourself from both of these chains, the good and the challenging, and anticipate the coming of Moshiach.

Does the Satan really think the extra shofar blasts on Rosh Hashanah herald the coming of Moshiach? How can he be confused the same way every year? Perhaps it is not Satan but ourselves who are mistaken about the power of the shofar, writes Rabbi Friedlander z”l, in Rinas Chaim. Rabbi Friedlander z”l, expounding on the ideas of the Ramchal z”l, questions why the verses cited in the section of Shofrot focus on the shofar blasts at Sinai rather than on the verses citing sounding the shofar on Rosh Hashanah. To answer this question, we need to go back to the era of creation itself.

At creation, Adam was all good. Evil existed, but it was external to him, within the serpent. When Adam sinned, The evil and impurity represented by the serpent entered into his being and became intermixed with the good. The shofar blasts at Sinai were meant to reawaken the pure soul within Bnei Yisroel and signal a return to the purity of man as Adam was before the sin. Bnei Yisroel trembled as they heard the shofar and accepted the Torah. However, because Bnei Yisroel had accepted the Torah, even though they sinned with the golden calf and impurity again entered within them, evil did not have the same power over them as before they received the Torah. Each Rosh Hashanah, when we hear the shofar, our souls are again awakened with the teruah, from the same root as “awakening” and we are roused to remove ourselves from evil, and to strengthen our straight path of good with the straight, strong sound of the tekiyah. Each year, as the shofar sounds, our resolutions bring us closer to hearing the sound of the great shofar. If we are not yet there, it is because we have not yet hearkened closely enough to the sound of the shofar and have failed to totally internalize its message. But the Satan got the message, knows what it means for us, and thinks that perhaps this is the sound of the great shofar, and he is confused,

The shofar blasts bring us back to that pure place at Har Sinai, to the clarity when Hashem revealed to us that there is none but Him. At that moment, writes Rabbi Roth z”l, we were on the same level as Adam at the beginning of creation, for the Ten Utterances/Dibrot/Commandments parallel the ten saying through which Hashem brought the world into existence. The ten verses that are part of each section of the Mussaf are meant to awaken within ourselves the vision of clarity that we had at Sinai and that Adam himself had before the sin. It is a vision that coronates Hashem not only as a King over the universe, but, more importantly, as the King and Sovereign of my life. With that clarity, I can subdue the yetzer hora and indeed bring the great shofar to herald the Moshiach today.

Rabbi Rothberg delves even more profoundly into the meaning of the shofar blasts at Sinai. In Moda Labinah, he reminds us that at creation, Hashem breathed into Adam a living soul, and Adam became a living being. At Sinai, Hashem again blew the breath of life into Bnei Yisroel through the medium of the shofar. Who blew the shofar at Sinai? It was Hashem Himself. It became stronger and stronger with the power of Torah. The shofar of Rosh Hashanah parallels the shofar of Sinai, and breathes life into me as well.

The Targum interprets that Hashem breathed into Adam ruach memalelah/the power of speech. It is no coincidence then, that either introducing each verse or within each of the thirty verses cited there is a variation of amor/say, either as leimor/saying, or as vene’emar/and it is said. (These are translated in vernacular English as “it is written”, but the Hebrew root is “said”.) Through the breath of the shofar, Hashem blew into us both the commands with which He created the world and the Ten Utterances at Sinai, infusing us with the purity of those times. When we recite these verses as part of our prayers, we are symbolically recreating the world on both the macro and micro levels. That’s why Hashem appeared to us as the voice of the shofar, for He was breathing life into us in that way. Therefore, on Rosh Hashanah I must see myself as a conduit of that voice of God.

On this day, we have the ability to recreate ourselves, writes Rabbi Pincus z”l, and we have the ability to impact the entire world through our prayers and our actions. We need to believe that we have the ability to change. A small decision can have tremendous impact.

The Tolna Rebbe brings a completely different perspective to the purpose of the shofar. While the sounds confound and confuse the Satan, they are meant to bring calm to Bnei Yisroel. The Haftorah of the Second Day is among the comforting prophesies of Yirmiyahu to Bnei Yisroel. Bnei Yisroel has survived the sword, haloch lehargiyah Yisroel/and Hashem will lead us to tranquility. In Ohri Veyishi, the Tolna Rebbe posits that the Satan constantly tries to create confusion and distress within us so that we will not have the time or peace of mind to observe mitzvoth, and certainly not with joy. But the sound of the shofar will bring confusion to the Satan so that he cannot disturb us, and we will have the tranquility to observe God’s mitzvoth.

What are we distressing about? Usually it is about the future, or perhaps about the past. In order to achieve menuchat hanefesh/tranquility/calm, writes Rabbi Ostrow, we must live in the moment. The distractions and worries sabotage all that is good in our lives. Therefore, we do not blow the shofar when Rosh Hashanah falls on Shabbat, so that we can retain the tranquility of Shabbat itself. If I can focus on the knowledge that Hashem gave me everything and sent every situation into my life expressly for me, whether joyous or challenging, for my benefit, I will not lose my tranquility and equilibrium, writes Rabbi Zvi Meir Silberberg in Sichot Hitchazkut. This in itself will confound the Satan. This is what I should strive for as I listen to the shofar blasts. I should strive to reconnect my breath with the breath of that shofar blast at Sinai that brought my soul and the souls of all Klal Yisroel in pure unity with Hakodosh Boruch Hu. May this year be the year we merit to hear the sound of the great shofar that heralds the coming of Moshiach.