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Why Is the Shofar Not Blown on Shabbat?

Why Is the Shofar Not Blown on Shabbat?

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Though sounding the shofar (ram's horn) on Rosh Hashanah is a biblical precept1 – no matter what day of the week the holiday may fall on2 – the Mishnah3 tells us that we do not sound the shofar when Rosh Hashanah falls on Shabbat:

If the holiday of Rosh Hashanah falls on Shabbat, the shofar is sounded in the Holy Temple,4 but not in the Land.

The Talmud5 gives us the explanation for this surprising law:

Rabbah said: All are under obligated to blow the shofar, but not all are skilled in the blowing of the shofar. Therefore, there is a danger that one will take the shofar and go to an expert to learn [how to properly sound it], and he will carry it four cubits in the public domain [—an act that is forbidden on the Shabbat].6

Indeed, the Sages are empowered to "overrule" a Torah precept (if their instruction involves restraint from action, not a proactive violation of a biblical command).7 Our obligation to follow such directives is implicit in the verse,8 "And you shall do according to the word they tell you, from the place that G‑d will choose, and you shall observe to do according to all they instruct you."9

In numerous chassidic discourses10 it is explained that it is inconceivable that the Sages would deprive all of Israel of the benefits afforded by one of the greatest mitzvot we have—simply on account of a few ignorant souls who might otherwise err. We must conclude that the Sages understood that on Shabbat it is actually unnecessary to blow the shofar, for that which we normally accomplish through sounding the shofar is, of its own accord, accomplished on Shabbat.

The accomplishment of the shofar is to renew G‑d's pleasure in His works, especially this world, so that there will be a desire to continue infusing His works with the life force necessary for their continued existence. If He delights in us, then He has reason to continue creating us, reason to continue His relationship with us. (For more on this, see The Kabbalistic Spin on Rosh Hashanah.)

The principal theme of Shabbat is also pleasure, delight and desire. "Call the Shabbat a delight," the prophet enjoins us11—which we accomplish by partaking of sumptuous meals.12 And that which G‑d instructs us to do, He also does Himself.13 If so, on Shabbat the delight and desire to continue with our world and with our relationship is already there—no need to blow the shofar to renew it.

(Nevertheless, there are many gradations to pleasure. The level of Divine pleasure evoked through blowing the shofar in the Holy Temple – the location where G‑d's essence was manifest – is greater than the pleasure naturally activated on Shabbat. As such, the shofar is sounded in the Temple even when Rosh Hashanah falls on Shabbat.)

Soon, we hope to merit hearing the "great shofar" that will be sounded on the day of the Redemption: "And it shall come to pass on that day, that a great shofar shall be sounded, and those lost in the land of Assyria and those exiled in the land of Egypt shall come, and they shall prostrate themselves before G‑d on the holy mount in Jerusalem."14

The "great shofar" symbolizes the ultimate level of pleasure, far greater even than the pleasure evoked in the Holy Temples of yore: the pleasure that G‑d takes in each and every one of His children. It is this pleasure that will be felt and manifest.

Indeed it is this immense revelation, this grand sounding of the shofar, that will reach the hearts of even the most distant of Jews – those lost in the land of Assyria and exiled in the land of Egypt – and kindle within them the desire to return to where they really belong: the holy mount in Jerusalem.15

Wishing you and yours a sweet new year,

Rabbi Naftali Silberberg,

Chabad.org Editorial Team

FOOTNOTES
1.

Numbers 29:1: "And in the seventh month, on the first day . . . it shall be a day of shofar sounding for you."

2.

And though the sounding of the shofar on Shabbat violates no biblical precept—as it's not included in any of the 39 creative works forbidden on the Day of Rest. (The Sages nevertheless forbade the sounding of the shofar on any Shabbat, because it is a "weekday-like activity." See Alter Rebbe's Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 588:4.)

3.

Rosh Hashanah 29b.

4.

Following the destruction of the Temple, the authorization to blow the shofar on Shabbat was transferred to wherever an ordained Sanhedrin (Rabbinical Supreme Court) was convened, for in such a setting there's no fear that an ignorant person will carry the shofar in the public domain. Today, however, there is no such ordained court.

5.

Ibid.

6.

The Talmud concludes that for the same reason we don't take the Four Kinds on Shabbat, nor do we read the Scroll of Esther if Purim were to fall on Shabbat.

7.

See Talmud Yevamot 89b-90b. This authority is subject to many limitations. For example, the Sages can only use this power in order to preserve another Torah statute (as in our case, the Torah prohibition against carrying in the public domain on Shabbat), and they don't have the ability to completely abolish a Torah rule (e.g., to decree that we never fulfill the mitzvah of blowing shofar, no matter on which day the holiday falls). For more on this topic, see Encyclopedia Talmudis vol. 25, entry Yesh Koach B'yad Chachamim La'akor Davar Min HaTorah.

8.

Deuteronomy 17:10.

9.

It should be noted that the Jerusalem Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 4:1) maintains that the original biblical command to sound the shofar on Rosh Hashanah only applied to when Rosh Hashanah falls on a weekday. This they extrapolate from two seemingly conflicting verses regarding blowing the shofar on Rosh Hashanah:
One verse (Numbers 29:1) tells us: "It shall be a day of shofar sounding." Another verse (Leviticus 23:24) tells us: "In the seventh month, on the first of the month, it shall be a Sabbath for you, a remembrance of the shofar blast."
Why here does the Torah tell us that on Rosh Hashanah we merely "memorialize" the shofar blasts? The Talmud explains that this verse refers to when Rosh Hashanah falls on Shabbat, in which instance we only recall the sounds of the shofar, through reciting verses that discuss the shofar, but we do not actually sound it.

10.

The original source of this concept is in Likutei Torah by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, Derushei Rosh Hashanah 56a ff.

11.

Isaiah 58:13.

12.

Alter Rebbe's Shulchan Aruch, ibid. 242:1.

13.

Midrash Rabbah Exodus 30:9.

14.

Isaiah 27:13.

15.

See Sefer Hamaamarim Melukat vol. 6, d.h. Vehaya Bayom Hahu.

Rabbi Naftali Silberberg is a writer, editor, and director of the curriculum department at the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute. Rabbi Silberberg resides in Brooklyn, NY, with his wife Chaya Mushka and their three children.
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Discussion (5)
February 14, 2014
Canceling
Ariel Weber,

Please give a more detailed explanation of your position. Your earlier statement could be taken in more than one context.
Shaul
DFW TX
September 19, 2012
Re:
Once the decree was made prohibiting the Shofar on Shabbat, it applies to all Shofar blowing regardless of whether there is a journey to get to one's location.
Yisroel Cotlar
Cary, nc
chabadmequon.org
September 13, 2012
Sounding shofar on Shabbt
What if I want to sound the shofar for my wife in our living room where we keep our shofar? There is no fear of carrying.
Anonymous
Atlanta, usa
chabadmequon.org
September 16, 2010
The Shofar can be blown
There are two options, I prefer the 2nd.
1. Get a non-Jew to blow it who follows the noahide laws.
2. You use shabbat timers for lights etc. which is likened to fire. So create a wind machine that can sound the shofar correctly without a person having to blow it.

Just a suggestion. That way you are satisfying a biblical commandment with respect to a rabbinical decree.
Miriam
Toronto, ON
September 16, 2009
Canceling Biblical Commandments
Without going into the arguments for and against the validity of string `eruvim...

Since it is relatively easy to put up some posts and connect a string to it, why did Hhazal see the need to cancel blowing shofar when Rosh Hashana falls on Shabbat? Why did they cancel shaking lulav when Sukkot falls on Shabbat? Why did they cancel reading megilla when Purim falls on Shabbat?

Maybe it didn't occur to them that you can carry in a string?
Ariel Weber
Jerusalem, Israel