The Relationship Between Shofar and Prayer

  • Rav Yair Kahn


Tekiya Al Seder Ha-berakhot:

On the Relationship between Shofar and Prayer


I. Introduction


According to the mishna in Rosh Ha-shana (33b), the mitzva of shofar demands blowing three units of teru'a. Each unit is comprised of one teru'a sandwiched by two tekiyot. However, the exact sound of the teru'a is a subject of disagreement among the Tannaim. According to one source, the proper sound is reminiscent of sobbing; we refer to this sound as shevarim. Another source demands what we refer to as a teru'a, which sounds more like weeping. R. Abbahu raised the possibility teru'a is a complex sound beginning with sobbing then developing into uncontrolled weeping. This sound is, of course, the shevarim-teru'a (ibid. 34a).


In order to cover the various possibilities, each version of the teru'a must be sandwiched by tekiyot, and repeated three times. This is exactly what we do before the Mussaf service in order to be certain that we fulfill the basic mitzva. This set of tekiyot is known as tekiyot de-meyushav (the tekiyot performed prior to the Mussaf prayer, when one can still sit).


Although the mitzva of shofar has already been fulfilled, we continue with tekiyot de-me'umad (tekiyot performed during the tefilla when one is standing). It is necessary to repeat the tekiyot, because optimally the shofar must be blown together with the three blessings recited within the Mussaf service on Rosh Ha-shana, i.e., Malkhuyot, Zikhronot and Shofarot. Merging the shofar with these berakhot is known as "tekiyot al seder ha-berakhot," and will be the subject of this shiur. We will begin with a discussion regarding the source for reciting these berakhot.


II. Malkhuyot, Zikhronot, and Shofarot


The gemara (Rosh Ha-shana 32a) cites a biblical source for these three berakhot. Similarly, the gemara (ibid. 16a) states: "The Holy One, blessed be He, said 'Recite Malkhuyot Zikhronot and Shofarot in my presence ...'" From these sources it appears that the three berakhot are required by Torah law. In fact, Rashi in his commentary on the Torah (Lev. 23:24) interprets a biblical verse as referring to the berakhot of Zikhronot and Shofarot. The Ramban (ibid.) attacks Rashi's position because of the following passage: "The mitzva of blowing the shofar is greater than the mitzva of the berakhot. In what situation? Where there are two towns, one in which they blow the shofar, the other in which they recite the berakhot, one must go to where they blow and not to where they bless. This is obvious, after all this (shofar) is from the Torah, while this (the berakhot) is rabbinic" (Rosh Ha-shana 34b).


Based on this explicit source, the Ramban concludes that the obligation to recite the berakhot is only rabbinic. Consequently, he claims that the gemara which derives these berakhot from biblical verses, is what is known as an asmakhta (artificially using the Torah to support rabbinic law). In his commentary on the Sefer Ha-mitzvot (first shoresh), the Ramban claims that gemarot which quote Hashem are not necessarily to be taken literally. He proves this from the sugya (mentioned above) which quotes Hashem as demanding the three berakhot, which are actually only of rabbinic origin. Before attempting to explain how Rashi might respond to the Ramban's attack, let us take a closer look at tekiya al seder ha-berakhot (merging the shofar with the berakhot).


III. Tekiyot De-me'umad


As previously noted, tekiya al seder ha-berakhot is fulfilled by the tekiyot de-me'umad, where we accompany the three berakhot with the shofar. There is an extensive discussion in the Rishonim relating to the exact performance of these tekiyot. According to the original custom, the berakha of Malkhuyot was accompanied by a unit of shevarim-teru'a (tekiya, shevarim-teru'a, tekiya). Nevertheless, the berakha of Zikhronot was accompanied by a unit of shevarim, while the berakha of Shofarot was accompanied by a unit of teru'a. At first glance this is quite strange, since there is no consistency regarding the teru'a. The three different versions of teru'a are used alternately in the three berakhot. This seems to lead to a situation whereby the shofar is blown correctly in only one of the three berakhot. The Rishonim were troubled by the apparent contradiction inherent in this practice.


There are various solutions to this problem. Rav Hai Gaon and the Ba'al Ha-ma'or claim that the various opinions regarding the sound of the teru'a are not mutually exclusive. Although the exact sound of the teru'a is preferable, any version of the teru'a is acceptable. The Rif and Rambam argue that accuracy of the teru'a is indispensable. Nevertheless, they explain, that accuracy during the tekiyot de-me'umad is not required, since the mitzva at the Torah level has already been fulfilled. Rabbeinu Tam, on the other hand, claimed that all the options are included within a shevarim-teru'a. He therefore altered the custom such that a shevarim-teru'a would accompany all three berakhot. Our custom, based on the Arukh, includes all three versions of the teru'a in each of the three berakhot.


Most of the solutions offered accept the basic assumption that a proper teru'a is essential for tekiyot de-me'umad. The Ramban boldly swept aside the entire problem. He claimed that a basic difference exists between the obligation of shofar on Rosh Ha-shana, and the obligation to accompany the berakhot with the shofar. This difference stems from two independent sources. In Parashat Emor (Lev. 23:24), we are commanded to blow the shofar on Rosh Ha-shana. This obligation focuses on the shofar, thereby demanding a precise rendition of the required sounds (tekiya-teru'a-tekiya, three times). In Parashat Beha'alotkha (Num. 10:9), we are commanded to sound trumpets whenever the Jewish people face danger. According to both the Rambam (Hilkhot Ta'aniyot 1:1) and the Ramban (see commentary on Sefer Ha-mitzvot, Positive Commandment #5), this is essentially an obligation of prayer which is accompanied by and expressed through the trumpet. Therefore, the Ramban claimed that precision of the trumpet sound is not essential. The Ramban proceeded to identify the halakha of tekiya al seder ha-berakhot on Rosh Ha-shana with the obligation to sound the trumpets in times of danger, since Rosh Ha-shana (being the day of judgment) poses a degree of danger.


According to the Ramban, when we blow the shofar before Mussaf (tekiyot de-meyushav), the obligation of shofar specific to Rosh Ha-shana is successfully completed. The additional obligation to accompany the berakhot with the shofar (tekiyot de-me'umad) is rooted in the general halakha of prayer in times of danger. Therefore, although precision is essential during the tekiyot de-meyushav, it is unnecessary during the tekiyot de-me'umad.


Those Rishonim who did not accept the Ramban's solution may argue with the Ramban's assertion that precision is unnecessary regarding the obligation to sound trumpets at times of danger. On the other hand, they may totally reject the entire thesis presented by the Ramban. These Rishonim may argue that tekiyot de-me'umad is not a separate obligation. The halakha to sound the shofar during the berakhot is a fuller more complete fulfillment of the mitzva of shofar specific to Rosh Ha-shana. This assumes, however, that the mitzva of shofar on Rosh Ha-shana is more than merely listening to the sounds of the shofar. The shofar is a form of prayer, an unutterable cry to Hashem which cannot be expressed verbally (see Tosafot Pesachim 115a s.v. Matkif). Nevertheless, when accompanied by the three berakhot, the prayer of the shofar is enhanced by the content of the berakhot. Therefore, although the basic mitzva was completed through the tekiyot de-meyushav, a fuller fulfillment is attained by sounding the shofar within the context of Malkhuyot, Shofarot and Zikhronot. According to this understanding, it is reasothat the criteria which govern the tekiyot de-meyushav will be applicable to tekiyot de-me'umad as well.


IV. Ramifications


The Rambam in Hilkhot Shofar (3:11) rules: "The person who blows the shofar when the congregation is sitting, is the one who should blow al seder ha-berakhot when they are standing, and he should not talk between the tekiyot de-meyushav and the tekiyot de-me'umad." It is possible to view this halakha as specific to the person blowing the shofar, because the berakha that he makes prior to blowing the shofar the first time should also relate to the subsequent tekiyot. However, there are opinions which extend this halakha to everyone (see Maggid Mishneh ibid.). If we view the tekiyot de-me'umad as a fulfillment of the mitzva of shofar, then it is reasonable to demand a degree of continuity between the beginning of the mitzva and its ultimate completion. If, on the other hand, the halakha of tekiya al seder ha-berakhot is independent, a break separating the two tekiyot is acceptable.


The berakha we recite before a mitzva is known as a birkat ha-mitzva. There are some berakhot which use the term "al" (on), e.g. al netilat yadayim, while others use the prefix "le-" (to), e.g. le-hadlik ner shel Shabbat. The gemara in Pesachim (7b) searches for some pattern or principle in order to explain these two different versions. However, the gemara's unclear conclusion generated a heated debate among the Rishonim. Rabbeinu Tam claimed that the term "al" applies to mitzvot which are fulfilled through a defined and limited act. However, "le-" is used regarding a mitzva whose fulfillment continues beyond the initial act (e.g. talmud Torah or hanachat tefillin).


The Ramban argues with Rabbeinu Tam, citing a number of berakhot inconsistent with his thesis. One of the questions involves the berakha of shofar, which is worded with a "le." The Ramban claims that shofar should be a classic case of a mitzva which is fulfilled through a clearly defined act. After all, one merely has to hear the three units of teru'a. The Rosh defends Rabbeinu Tam's position, claiming that shofar is not fulfilled through a defined act, since one must also hear the tekiya al seder ha-berakhot. The Ramban, who maintained that tekiya al seder ha-berakhot is independent of the basic mitzva of shofar, would certainly not have been convinced by this argument. The Rosh, on the other hand, explicitly supports the alternate approach which perceived the berakhot as enhancing and completing the mitzva of shofar. The categorization of shofar as a mitzva whose fulfillment is not clearly defined, may not be only because of the time lapse between tekiyot de-meyushav and tekiyot de-me'umad. The perception of shofar as a form of prayer (which is therefore enhanced by the berakhot) is by definition not clearly defined. According to this understanding, even if the berakha were made immediately preceding tekiyot de-me'umad, the prefix "le" and not "al" would be appropriate. The Ramban, however, viewed shofar not as prayer but rather as hearing or sounding certain sounds. Therefore, according to the Ramban, the mitzva of shofar is clearly defined.


V. Rashi


The gemara (34b) says that the berakhot and tekiyot of Rosh Ha-shana are dependent on each other. Rashi interprets this to mean that the mitzva of the three berakhot cannot be fulfilled without sounding the shofar, and the mitzva of shofar cannot be fulfilled without reciting the berakhot. Tosafot (33b) reject this explanation. According to Tosafot, each one of the three berakhot is dependent on other two. Similarly, the three units of teru'a are interdependent. However, the berakhot and tekiyot are independent of each other.


If, like the Ramban, we maintain that shofar and berakhot are independent, then there is no reason to assume that the fulfillment of one should be connected with the other. If, on the other hand, we view berakhot as enhancing the shofar and filling it with content, then the idea of dependency can be entertained.


Tosafot reject Rashi's interpretation based on the gemara (quoted above) which ruled that one should prefer shofar without berakhot over berakhot without shofar, since shofar is required by Torah law, while berakhot is a rabbinic obligation. If, as Rashi claims, shofar is dependent upon the berakhot, what is gained by hearing the shofar without the berakhot?


Perhaps, we can solve this problem according to Rashi by interpreting the gemara in a slightly different manner. We suggested that Rashi maintains that the berakhot enhance the mitzva of shofar. Although Rashi must admit that the basic mitzva of shofar is fulfilled without the berakhot, nevertheless, in order to achieve a complete fulfillment of shofar, the berakhot are indispensable.


What happens in the opposite case, when the berakhot are recited without the shofar? The Ramban maintained that tekiya al seder ha-berakhot is not rooted in the mitzva of shofar, but rather the obligation to pray in times of danger. Accordingly, the berakhot are of primary importance, while the shofar is a helpful but not critical addition. It follows that lack of the shofar would not invalidate the berakhot. However, according to Rashi, the berakhot do not play an independent role. They merely enhance the mitzva of the shofar. Therefore, in the absence of a shofar, the berakhot lose their basic meaning.


The Ramban proved that the three berakhot are of rabbinic origin from the gemara which preferred shofar without berakhot over berakhot without shofar. The gemara explained that the Torah obligates shofar, while only the Rabbis demand the berakhot. According to the Ramban's opinion that tekiya al seder ha-berakhot is basically an obligation to pray, the proof is very convincing. After all, the gemara explicitly regards the prayer as rabbinic. Rashi, however, understood the berakhot to be an enhancement of the mitzva of shofar. Therefore, when the berakhot are recited in the absence of the shofar, they lose their basic meaning. In such a situation the obligation is only rabbinic. However, when the berakhot accompany the shofar, then it is possible that the obligation is rooted in the Torah, as the optimal method of fulfilling the mitzva of shofar.




Tekiya al seder ha-berakhot is comprised of two components: shofar and tefilla. We presented two basic understandings of this combination.


1. The Ramban understood the basic halakha as one of tefilla. According to him, shofar is secondary, merely accompanying the tefilla, analogous to the trumpets in times of danger.

2. The Rosh took the opposite approach, considering tekiyot de-me'umad to be a fulfillment of shofar. The mitzva of shofar, which itself is a non-expressible form of tefilla, is enhanced by the berakhot of Malkhuyot, Zikhronot and Shofarot.


By subscribing to the Rosh's approach, we solved the difficulties inherent in Rashi's commentary on the Torah. We further noted this as being consistent with the way Rashi interprets the gemara in Rosh Ha-shana.