Blasts From the Past
Parshas Nitzavim/Rosh Hashanah
Blasts From the Past
Our parsha begins, "Atem Nitzavim Hayom" (You are standing today; Devarim 29:9). Based on the Zohar (parshas Bo, pg. 32b), the Todos Ya'akov Yosef, and many others, say that the word "hayom" (today) refers to "The Day of Judgement", Rosh Hashanah. This allusion to Rosh Hashanah is hinted to specifically in this week's parsha (Netzavim) because it is read right before Rosh Hashanah.
Although we cannot bring the offerings of Rosh Hashanah yet, we do have a positive Torah command of the day which still remains with us, namely, the blowing of the shofar.
There is no end to the deep explanations, wondrous hints, great charms, and lofty secrets found throughout the Talmud, Midrash, Zohar, Rishonim, Acharonim, Arizal, Ba'al Shem Tov and his disciples, about the mitzvah of blowing the Shofar.
It is not for naught that Dovid Hamelech (King David) said, "Praise to the people who 'know' the shofar's cry" (Tehillim 89:16). If we "know" the deeper meaning of the shofar, we are truly praiseworthy.
On Rosh Hashanah, we blow 30 blasts before the silent Mussaf prayer, another 30 blasts during the silent Mussaf prayer (according to some customs), another 30 blasts during the repetition of the silent prayer, and 10 final blasts in the middle of Kaddish recited after the Mussaf service.
The sum total of Shofar blasts on Rosh Hashanah is 100. We arrive at the number 100 from two words, "teruah" and "yabavah." The verse says that we must blow a "teruah" (Bamidbar 29:1). Since we do not know what a "teruah" blast sounds like, Onkelos says it means a "yabavah." The question is, "What's a 'yabavah'?"
To answer this question, the Talmud (Rosh Hashanah, chap. 4, "Yom Tov", pg. 33b) turns to a verse about Sisra's mother. Sisra was the general of the Canaanite army. When the Canaanites lost the war and Sisra was killed, the verse says that Sisra's mother peered out of her window. She was expecting a victory parade for her son's military triumph.
However, when she realized that Sisra was not going to be coming home, she cried (Sefer Shoftim 5:28). The word in the verse describing her cries is "vateyabev" (and she moaned or sobbed). This word shares the same linguistic similarity as Onkelos's word "yabava."
Once we define what "vateyabev" means, we will know what a "yabava" is, and subsequently, we will know what a "teruah" is. It turns out that there is a debate between the Braisa and the Mishnah with respect to what "vateyabev" means.
The Braisa (Meseches Rosh Hashanah, ibid) says that "vateyabev" means the three short moaning sounds that we call a "shevarim" today. However, the Mishnah (Rosh Hashanah chap. 4, "Yom Tov", pg. 33b) says that a "vateyabev" means the nine even shorter sobbing sounds that we call a "teruah" today.
Now we are getting some clarity. A "yabava" or a "teruah" is either a shevarim (3 blasts) or a "teruah" (9 blasts).
Since there is no ruling which decides if a yabava is a shevarim (3 blasts) or a teruah (9 blasts), we blow all of their possible combinations to satisfy all opinions (Rebbi Avahu, Rosh Hashanah, pg. 33b). This is done in the following way. But first we must add one more piece of information to the mix.
From the Shofar blast blown at Yovel (the Jubilee year; Vayikra 25:9) we learn that there must be a tekiyah (one straight long sound) blown before and after the teruah (Rosh Hashanah pg. 34a). That is clear, but we still don't know what a teruah is (the three sounds or the nine).
Therefore, we do everything. We blow a tekiah before and after a shevarim and a teruah, in case both the Braisah and Mishnah are correct.
Then we blow a tekiah before and after a shevarim alone in case only the Braisah is correct.
Then we blow a tekiah before and after a teruah alone in case only the Mishnah is correct.
Each set is blown three times corresponding to the three thematic ideas of the day: Malchiyos, Zichronos, and Shofaros (sovereignty, remembrances, and Shofar). When all the sounds of the Shofar blowing are added up, there are 100 blasts altogether.
The B'nei Yissaschar (Tishrei 3:8) says that according to the Zohar (Pinchas pg. 232b), it is imperative that we blow 100 sounds from a shofar on Rosh Hashanah even if we did not have a doubt about what a teruah is, because there are deep kabbalistic secrets contained in the 100 blasts.
However, in order that Talmudic and Halachic scholars, who are not familiar with kabbalistic meanings, should also wind up blowing 100 blasts, Hashem spoke ambiguously in the Torah by commanding us to blow a "teruah." Hashem knew that we would not know what a teruah is. God knew that we would not know what Onkelos's translation "yabava" means. Hashem knew that there would be a debate about the word "vateyabev," causing us to blow 100 blasts to satisfy all of the opinions.
When you boil it all down, we learn about the 100 blasts from a shofar on Rosh Hashanah from Sisra's mother. Why would Hashem have us learn about holy shofar blasts from Sisra's mother? Sisra was a rasha (evil person) and so was his mother. What does she have to do with Rosh Hashanah? Why do we have to think about her during our holy service of shofar blowing?
To address this, the Shvilei Pinchas says that we must first crystalize what the focus of our prayers are supposed to be on Rosh Hashanah. The Tikkunei Zohar (Tikkun 6, pg. 22a) says that we are supposed to pray that the Shechinah (Divine Presence) gets liberated from Galus (exile). Wherever the Jewish people are exiled to, the Shechinah goes with them.
The Shechinah is like our spiritual mother. Just as a mother would fall to pieces if her child became seriously ill, the Shechinah is terribly pained because of her children who suffer.
Unfortunately, on Rosh Hashanah, many people only pray for life, health, parnassah (livelihood), shidduchim, etc. for themselves, families and friends. However, how many people pray for the Shechinah? This lack of care and concern for the Shechinah causes her much distress.
But, we can help. If we do teshuvah (repentance), we remove sin. Then, there is no need for the Jews to be in exile. Once we are redeemed from Galus, the Shechinah gets liberated from Galus as well.
The goal of our prayers on Rosh Hashanah is to redeem the Shechinah from Galus. Perhaps we could add that if we stop thinking about ourselves on Rosh Hashanah, and focus on the needs of the great "Other" (the Shechinah), then, Hashem says to us, "You're putting yourselves aside and putting Me in the center by only thinking about Me even though you're being judged! I promise that I will also put everything else aside, place you in the center, and concentrate only on you and your needs." This is the greatest way to procure all the blessings for ourselves, our families, and friends.
The Shvilei Pinchas says that all this fits into the shofar blasts on Rosh Hashanah. This is because God's kingdom is called "Malchus D'kedusha" (Holy Sovereignty). But, when there is tremendous kedusha, there will also be tremendous tuma (impurity; see Koheles 7:14). This means that opposing the "Malchus D'kedusha" is a "Malchus D'klipa" (unholy sovereignty).
Sisra, his mother, and his entire army were the "Malchus D'klipa" in that generation. When they fought against the Jewish people, it wasn't just a battle against the Jews, it was a battle against what the Jews represent, God Himself and His Malchus D'kedusha.
When Sisra's mother realized that her son would not be returning from the battle field, she understood that she lost much more than a child. She understood that the "Malchus D'klipa" was subdued by the "Malchus D'kedusha". Sisra's mother cried, not just because she lost a son, she cried because she lost her "Malchus D'klipa."
The Shvilei Pinchas says that this is why Hashem wants us to learn about the amount of shofar blasts on Rosh Hashana from Sisra's mother. God is calling out to us, teaching us a lesson. The message is that we should care about the "Malchus D'kedushah" as much as she cared about the "Malchus D'klipa." If she could cry over the fall of her unholy empire, how much more so should we cry about the fact that, today, the Holy Empire is losing the battle.
If Sisra's mother could say, "Why is his (Sisra's) chariot delayed in coming, why are the hoofbeats of his carriage so late?" (Sefer Shotim 5:28) then we can say something along those same lines. For example, "Why are we procrastinating doing teshuvah? Why are the hoofbeats of Moshiach's carriage delayed? When are we getting out of Galus? When will are Jews live in Eretz Yisrael (Israel)? When will we be able to congregate around the Beis Hamikdash? When will the Shechina finally be liberated?"
We must ask ourselves if we even care about Hashem's sovereignty. If not, why? Sometimes we must learn from the wicked. They believe in the causes that they stand for. Do we? They mourn over the loss of what they believe in. Do we? They are willing to sacrifice for their beliefs. Are we?
The sounds of the shofar are the Jewish people's collective cry to motivate us to teshuva, remove sin, end Galus, and liberate the Shechina. This collective cry counteracts the cries of the wicked who mourn the loss of their evil. Our collective cry also silences the Shechina's cries. The Shechina cries because she thinks that nobody cares about her. With our collective cry, we comfort her by saying that we are thinking about her and we do feel her pain.
After connecting Sisra's mother to the shofar blasts, we must add another point. The Tosafists (Rosh Hashanah pg. 33b, divrei hamaschil "Shiur", citing the Aruch) say that Sisra's mother didn't just cry, she cried 100 times. What is the significance to her 100 cries? Why did she cry so many times? What was she thinking about?
One of the functions of the shofar is to instill yiras Hashem (reverence of God; Amos 3:6) into us. This reverence is supposed to motivate us to teshuva, which wipes sin away, thus preventing any punishment from coming upon us.
But, there are many people who believe in God completely, and yet do not possess yiras Hashem. Why? The Shem Mishmuel (parshas Eikev) and the Shel"a (parshas Chayei Sarah) say that the answer is that it's the Samech Mem's fault.
The Samech Mem is the most powerful bad angel that God created. This angel has a full name, spelled: samech, mem, aleph, lamed. We are not supposed to pronounce his full name because if we do, he might think we are summoning him. He would fly towards us, and we want to avoid any unnecessary contact with him because he is dangerous.
The Samech Mem has 100 forces of evil at his disposal which he uses to create barriers, partitions, and iron curtains which separate the Jewish people from Hashem. There is a hint which supports this fact about his 100 forces of evil. The hint is found in his nickname, Samech Mem. A samech is numerically 60, and a mem is numerically 40. Together, they equal 100.
Once these hundred fences and walls go up, it is not surprising that we do not possess yiras Hashem. How could we? We are so distant from Hashem that we do not feel His Presence. If we are unaware of God's Presence, we could never hope to feel His awe.
In the future, Hashem is going to slaughter the Yetzer Hara (evil inclination; Succah, chap. 5, "Hachalil", pg. 52a, Rebbi Yehudah) who is the same angel as the Samech Mem. Hashem will slaughter him by cutting away the letters samech and mem from his name. This means that Hashem will remove the 100 forces of evil which are alluded to in the letters samech and mem.
Only the letters aleph and lamed will remain. Aleph Lamed spells "'K'Ail" (Almighty). This means that the bad angel will be transformed into a good angel, becoming a good representative of the Almighty God.
In the meantime, we suffer from the Samech Mem and his 100 forces of evil which creates separation. What are we to do to combat this situation? The Shvilei Pinchas says that the answer lies in the 100 shofar blasts on Rosh Hashanah. The 100 Shofar sounds have the capacity to destroy the 100 forces of evil. Each shofar sound peels away another layer of spiritual filth which causes separation.
It is not surprising that the shofar is an instrument which instills trepidation into our hearts (Amos 3:6). It does so by removing the barriers of separation. Once those fences have been destroyed, we begin to feel God's Presence. Once we begin to feel God's Presence, obviously we are filled with reverence and awe of Hashem.
This explains why the Satan (who is the same angel as the Yetzer Hara and the Samech Mem) gets confused by the Shofar blowing (Rosh Hashanah, chap. 1, "Arba'a Roshei Shanim", pgs. 16a-b). When Satan hears 100 blasts, he realizes that his 100 forces of evil have collapsed. He thinks that our shofar is the shofar that is going to be blown at the End of Days, when the Yetzer Hara gets slaughtered.
Satan thinks that he is going to cease to exist. Although he will be transformed from a bad angel into a good one, he still fears change. The possibility of him losing his current identity is so disturbing that he has no time to prosecute against the Jewish people.
The Shvilei Pinchas says that this explains why Sisra's mother cried specifically 100 times. She did not just lose her son in battle, she understood that she also lost the 100 forces of evil that were given to her and her son.
You see, the Samech Mem looks for the most powerful bad person in each generation. When he finds such a person, the Samech Mem adopts him, giving him the keys to all 100 forces of evil.
Eisav was the most powerful rasha (wicked person) in his generation. As such, Eisav's guardian angel was the Samech Mem (Kli Yakar, parshas Vayishlach, 32:25). Later in history, Sisra was the most powerful rasha in his generation. Therefore, the Samech Mem selected Sisra, giving him the keys to all 100 forces of evil.
When Sisra's mother realized that her son would not be returning home, she lost more than a son. There were more global issues at hand. She lost all 100 forces of evil. Her unholy empire was crushed. She cried specifically 100 times to show that she mourned the downfall of her 100 negative forces.
This is why we blow the shofar specifically 100 times. It is in order to destroy the 100 forces of evil from the Samech Mem which exist in every generation. This creates closeness with God, which instills awe, which motivates us to teshuva, which removes sin, which ends our Galus, and subsequently liberates the Shechina from exile as well.
Practically speaking, we should try to not only tap into the shofar's power two days a year. We should try to take its message with us throughout the entire year.
Perhaps we could suggest that one way of doing this would be to work on another 100. I am referring to the 100 berachos (blessings) we are supposed to recite every single day. The Gemara says that we learn about these 100 berachos from what Moshe Rabbenu said to the Jewish people. He said, "Ma (what) does, Hashem your God, ask of you, only to fear Hashem your God" (Devarim 10:12).
The Gemara in Menachos, (chap. 4, "Hatecheles", pg. 43b, Rebbi Meyer) says to read the word "ma" (what) as "meah" (100). This turns Moshe's question into a statement. According to this adjustment, Moshe said, "One hundred (blessings) Hashem your God asks of you, in order to fear Hashem your God."
By the way, Rabbenu Tam (ibid) points out that in order to turn the word "ma" into "meah," we must throw an imaginary aleph into the word. With this addition, there are 100 letters in that entire verse, further hinting at its subject matter, that we should recite 100 berachos a day.
The Gemara asks, "Is the fear of God a small matter?" Moshe made it sound so easy. Almost as if it's not much to ask for. How could that be? Yiras Hashem is a very high level to achieve. It was a huge request!
The Gemara answers this question in its own way. However, perhaps we could suggest an alternative answer. Moshe meant to say that Yiras Hashem is only hard because of the Samech Mem and his 100 forces of evil which create 100 partitions distancing the Jews from God.
However, if we were to recite 100 berachos a day with concentration, it would be easy to possess Yiras Hashem. When each beracha is said with concentration, it becomes increasingly clearer that Hashem is involved, and is in control, of every aspect of our lives.
Repeating these berachos 100 times a day, destroys the 100 forces of the Samech Mem. When Moshe said "ma", he hinted to "meah." Moshe said, "Do you catch my drift? If we do the 'meah', then 'ma', what's so hard about possessing Yiras Hashem?"
This could be this year's kabbala (resolution). During the 100 tekiyos, let us accept upon ourselves to improve our 100 berachos a day. After all, both the shofar and the berachos are meant to instill Yiras Hashem within us.
Obviously, many of us cannot take on 100 berachos a day with concentration suddenly. So, let's start small. During the first week of the new year, let's choose one or two berachos that we are going to say with kavanah (concentration) no matter what. After concretizing those two berachos, we can slowly add another beracha or two to the list. By this time next year, after 365 days have past, we could most certainly have improved our 100 daily berachos.
This will generate an awareness of God's Presence, instill Yiras Hashem within us, remove sin, prevent punishment, redeem us from Galus, and liberate the Shechinah from exile as well.
So, may we all be blessed to absorb the impact of the 100 tekiyos by shattering the 100 layers of the Samech Mem's darkness, and become filled with Yiras Hashem, doing teshuva shlaimah, and remove punishment from the world, so that our deepest prayers may be answered, namely, that the Shechina and B'nei Yisrael be liberated from exile, and that Hashem be recognized and revered by all, so that everybody will bless Hashem at least 100 times a day with the greatest concentration.