The Blowing of the Shofar: Complete Repentance and Satan’s Bewilderment
It is written, “Sound the Shofar at the moon’s renewal, at the time appointed for our festive day. For it is a decree for Israel, a judgment for the G-d of Jacob” (Psalms 81:4-5). It is from here that the Sages learn about Rosh Hashanah, the holiday that occurs at the time of the new moon (Rosh Hashanah 8b), and it teaches us that it is a day of judgment – “a judgment for the G-d of Jacob.”
We must ask why the Torah is content with hinting at the fact, rather than explicitly stating that Rosh Hashanah is a day of judgment. We shall attempt to clarify this point in light of the following teaching of the Sages: “Why do we blow the Shofar? It is to confound the Satan” (Rosh Hashanah 16b). Rashi explains: “It is so that he does not accuse, for when he will hear the Children of Israel cherishing the mitzvot, he will be reduced to silence.” This fully explains why Rosh Hashanah is not explicitly mentioned as a day of judgment, for we must surprise the Satan on this great day in order that he not bring accusations against the Children of Israel. This is part of G-d’s kindness toward His people.
The above point emerges from what the Holy One, blessed be He, said to the Children of Israel concerning the sacrifice that is brought and the rejoicing that is done on that day (see Numbers 29:1-6). It also emerges from the term keseh (“the “renewal” of the moon, meaning when the moon is hidden), for everything is hidden from the sight of the evil inclination, and the judgment itself is hidden so that it will be unable to accuse. In addition, when it sees the Children of Israel rejoicing and dressed in white like the angels (Tur, Orach Haim 581), it will fear them. This is because the color white signifies that our sins have been forgiven, as it is written: “If your sins are like scarlet, they will become white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18), and that we are rejoicing because we are innocent. The evil inclination will therefore be unable to mention our sins and accuse us, for it only accuses when sins are mentioned, which is why Rosh Hashanah is hidden from it, without mentioning the fact that it is also confounded by the Shofar.
If we are correct with regards to this, we may ask why the judgment of Yom Kippur itself is not mentioned by allusion, rather than being spelled out in black and white (Leviticus 23:28). If Yom Kippur openly exists to atone for our sins, the evil inclination can prepare itself to accuse us during the 10 Days of Awe, aware of the arrival of the day of forgiveness – the day when the judgment is sealed – and which the Rambam says atones for sins in and of itself, as it written: “For on this day he shall provide atonement for you” (Leviticus 16:30). It would therefore seem that Yom Kippur should have only been mentioned by allusion!
There is something else that we must understand. The Sages have said, “Why do we blow into a ram’s horn? It is to evoke the sacrifice of Isaac. When we sound the ram’s horn the Holy One, blessed be He, considers it as if we ourselves had been tied up on the altar before Him” (Rosh Hashanah 16a). This is difficult to understand. Why must the sacrifice of Isaac be evoked, since everything is known and nothing forgotten before Him? G-d Himself recalls the sacrifice of Isaac every day, and since He can distance the Satan (who accuses us) and make him depart from His presence, why must we evoke Isaac’s sacrifice? Must we fear all year long that the evil inclination will not allow us to repent because there is no Shofar throughout the year? Is repentance not accepted throughout the year, but rather only on Rosh Hashanah when we blow the Shofar? Is such a thing possible?
We shall attempt to explain this as best possible. As we know, the primary thing that leads a person to sin is an absence of effort in Torah study and a lack of enthusiasm in the performance of mitzvot, for only the person who performs his duty wholeheartedly demonstrates his love and affection for G-d. This is why the Torah instituted the sounding of the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah (the day when we repent of our sins). In fact, sounding the Shofar demands enormous devotion, for the one who sounds it almost chokes, and he becomes exhausted after having sounded it 100 times, corresponding to the 100 blessings that one must say each day, as several sources enjoin us to do. Now a person does not always recite these blessings wholeheartedly. There is also a connection between sounding the Shofar and everyday mitzvot, which we often perform without particular enthusiasm. The sounding of the Shofar therefore represents the correction of these faults, for the sounding is truly done with devotion, including the interruption to the breathing process (which is analogous to death). It has already been explained at length that a man repents through sighing, and when he sighs he stops breathing, which resembles death. He therefore becomes like a sacrifice.
We therefore understand why G-d commanded us to evoke the sacrifice of Isaac on Rosh Hashanah. This consists of sounding the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah, which evokes a maximum of self-sacrifice, as did Isaac, who was tied up on the altar in an act of complete self-sacrifice. It also evokes the fact that love for G-d is whole in nature. The sounding of the Shofar should also repair a lack of devotion by evoking the sacrifice of Isaac, for it encourages a person to strengthen himself even more to improve his behavior and to put greater devotion into it. This is why we are joyful at Rosh Hashanah and dress in white, which alludes to the fact that all the mitzvot should be performed with joy, in purity, and without any trace of sadness or grief, for sadness is the reason for a lack of enthusiasm in serving G-d.
Let us assume that we now understand why it is explicitly stated that sins are atoned for on Yom Kippur. Therefore if a man performs his service with devotion, in joy and with complete repentance, when Yom Kippur occurs he will have nothing to worry about, for the Satan cannot accuse on that day, the day of atonement (Yoma 29a).
Hence we now understand why Rosh Hashanah was designated as a day for prayer, spiritual elevation, and repairing the sins between man and G-d and between man and man. We also know why it was designated as a day to perform mitzvot with joy and enthusiasm, a day when the evil inclination is brushed aside. On Rosh Hashanah we recite verses proclaiming G-d’s kingship in order to establish G-d as our King (Rosh Hashanah 16a, 34b), and even if a person sins on that day, he has already expressed his belief that G-d is like a king to him and that he desires to serve Him with love, joy, and devotion, like Isaac when he was bound upon the altar. Consequently, this repentance and staunch resolve will prove useful throughout the year. Therefore even if the Satan comes and disturbs us during that time and tries to prevent us from repenting, he can only try to do so – he does not have the power to completely block our repentance. This is because a person has, at Rosh Hashanah, already demonstrated his belief that G-d is his king and that he will wholeheartedly serve Him. This is part of G-d’s kindness to us, namely that He showed us how to return to Him at Rosh Hashanah by means of the Shofar, and how to conquer the evil inclination throughout the year.
Above all, we fully understand why we sound the Shofar uniquely on Rosh Hashanah, not the whole year round. As we have said, Rosh Hashanah was given in order to repair the blessings and mitzvot that were imperfectly carried out during the entire year, as well as to confound the Satan – on Rosh Hashanah and throughout the year – so that he becomes unable to find a reason to accuse us. True, a person should be vigilant not to give him a sin to use as a reason to accuse, however if he has already sinned he can repent by the power of the Shofar sounding on Rosh Hashanah. This is the meaning of, “they shall be a remembrance for you” (Numbers 10:10), meaning that during the entire year a person should recall the sounding of the Shofar that he heard on Rosh Hashanah. This memory is so powerful that it has the power to confound the Satan throughout the year.
We see from this that G-d’s actions are truly destined to benefit His creations. This is in order that they may completely repent without the Satan’s interference, and that during the entire year they should be close to G-d and serve Him.