Last week we pointed out that Chazal and the Rishonim explain quite a number of shofar customs based on the principle of “confusing the Satan”, the accuser. One approach we presented was to explain that by blowing the shofar earlier (already in Elul), more times (standing and sitting) and in more ways (various kinds of calls), we “confuse ourselves”; we create a sense of urgency to repentance already weeks before the Days of Awe, and amaze ourselves with our ability to cleave to the commandments.
This week we will focus on one specific mention of this principle. As we wrote two weeks ago, the Midrash explains that Chazal instituted blowing the shofar in Elul as a commemoration of the shofar which announced to the children of Israel that Moshe ascended Mount Sinai on the first of Elul in the first year in the desert, as he went up to obtain the second set of tablets. The first tablets were broken after Moshe saw the people bowing down to the golden calf. (Pirkei deRebbe Eliezer 46.) The Tur adds that this is “to confuse the Satan”. (OC 581; some commentators seem to indicate that the Tur is actually citing a variant of the Midrash.)
This expression is interesting because it exactly parallels an expression that explains why this shofar was necessary. When Moshe descended from the mountain with the first tablets, some of the people were convinced that he had disappeared never to return. Two weeks ago we explained that the shofar blast at the second ascent was meant to reassure the people that Moshe did not disappear; he merely ascended to receive the Torah again. But how did the people make such a grave mistake the first time? The Gemara, cited by Rashi, relates that “Satan came and confused the world” (Rashi Shemot 32:1) First he created fog and confusion; afterward she convinced them that Moshe was dead.
So the sin of the calf after the first ascent to Sinai came about because Satan confused the people; the shofar sounded at the second ascent was meant above all to prevent a recurrence of idol worship by preventing Satan from confusing us. But the Tur adds that it went beyond this and actually confused Satan!
We can explain this parallelism as follows: Satan confused the world and convinced the people that Moshe was dead. But seemingly this impression is not enough to induce them to bow down to idols! Satan, the tempter, was aware of the low spiritual level of the people, who had only recently escaped from the gates of impurity they had been sunken in in Egypt. He knew that to a great extent their worship of Hashem was dependent on Moshe’s leadership and example. As soon as they thought Moshe was dead, they would both need a substitute in the form of an idol, and they would dare make one thinking they had nothing to fear from Moshe’s rebuke.
The shofar blown at the second ascent seemed to be reconciled to this level. According to many commentaries, the reason for the shofar blast was to inform the people that Moshe didn’t disappear, that he was coming back; in this way they would be neither motivated nor emboldened to worship idols. Thus far, we have only prevented Satan from confusing us. But the Tur then adds an additional reason for the shofar: to awaken the people to repentance. The shofar not only helped the people maintain good behavior in their previous low spiritual level; it actually went beyond this and inspired the Children of Israel to a spiritual ascent, to a higher level of faith in God. This confused and deterred Satan the accuser; presumably he thought he could accuse the people not only with worshipping the calf the first time, but also with being willing to do so the second time, were it not for the shofar. But in fact as the Days of Awe approached the first year of the exodus from Egypt, the people had repented and purified their faith aided by the stirring call of the shofar.
Thus, the shofar which was meant only to notify us that we had to still be in awe of Moshe, and not be confused by the machinations of Satan, ultimately inspired us to deepen our awe of Hashem and thus enabled us to confuse and deter his accusations.
Rabbi Asher Meir is the author of the book Meaning in Mitzvot, distributed by Feldheim. The book provides insights into the inner meaning of our daily practices, following the order of the 221 chapters of the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.