The Shofar: Cutting through Us to Rejuvenate Us
Taste of Talmud
Is there a requisite amount of time for the sound of the Shofar, or does it just depend on how long the baal tokeiah (the one blowing) can hold his breath? According to the Raavad, the length of the sound of all of the long blasts (Tekios) is identical. The sound must last an amount of time equal to nine short blasts. This is also the amount of time it takes to blow three medium blasts. According to the Raavad, all Tekiah blasts must be approximately 9 seconds, regardless of the length of the particular sound that is made in between the two Tekiah sounds. The Geonim, however, make a distinction between the length of the different Tekiah sounds. They are of the opinion that the length of the long blasts (tekiah) varies, depending, on how long you blow the broken sounds that are between the long blasts. It would follow that according to the Geonim, the Tekiah sounds made surrounding the combined Shevarim-Teruah sounds must be approximately 18 seconds in order to be as long as all of the broken sounds made in that set. This is longer than the Tekiah sounds surrounding the Teruah or the Shevarim sounds. This dispute is brought in the words of the Ran, and revolves around the question as to how to interpret the words in the passage of the Talmud in Tractate Rosh Hashana (33b) “Bhai Vadai P’ligi.”
Taste of Halacha
How many sounds of the Shofar is one obligated to hear on Rosh Hashanah? The basic requirement is nine. Why then is the shofar blown so many times? The answer has to do with a dilemma in our understanding of what the Torah meant when it said that we should blow a “Teruah.” We do know that we must blow a Teruah three times bracketed by a long blast, tekiah, on either end. What is unclear is the nature of the Teruah sound. There are three possibilities: 1) A Teruah may be nine short blasts or 2) It may be three medium blasts or 3) It may be a combination of the two. In order to ensure that we have fulfilled our obligation we blow all of the three different possibilities. They are all bracketed by the requisite long blast, prior to, and following, the “Teruah” sound. This accounts for thirty sounds. There is another halachic dilemma in regards to the blowing of the three short blasts followed in quick succession by the nine blasts. The Ramban is of the opinion that they should all be blown in one breath without pausing to take a breath of air between the three medium blasts and the nine short blasts. The Rambam, however, is of the opinion that a breath could be taken in between the two parts of this form of Teruah. Therefore it is our custom to repeat this set a second time in order to fulfill both opinions. This accounts for another 12 sounds. All the other sounds blown in Synagogue are based on a Jewish minhag (custom).
Taste of Parasha
When a person has a sincere feeling of embarrassment for having done a misdeed he is forgiven. A good Teshuva Drasha touches upon many areas in which we may have been remiss during the year. In this way, the words of the speaker may be like harsh rain that is painful to bear. The result however is a life giving dew, for these words allow a person to achieve a forgiveness which brings with it blessings of life, health and prosperity for the New Year. This is what is meant by the verse “My words come cutting down like rain and are like the blessing of dew”. With this concept, The Chasam Sofer explains a perplexing Medrash. The Medrash says that one is permitted to violate the laws of Shabbos in order to heal a person who is having difficulty hearing. The question is: Why is the loss of hearing considered to be a matter of life and death which allows for the desecration of Shabbos? The Medrash is speaking about Shabbos Shuva. On this Shabbos, if a person cannot hear the Teshuva Drasha he may miss out on the purifying effect of the Rabbi’s words on his soul. As a matter of fact, the Chasam Sofer says, Moshe Rabbeinu said the entire Parashas Haazinu on the day of his death which was a Shabbos. These poetic words of inspiration fell like rain into the hearts of the Jewish nation, and just like dew improves the ground, they enlivened their devotion to Hashem anew.