Why the ShofrosVerses Are Recited

Adapted from Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXXIV, p. 180ff.

Our Sages state:1

The [Shofar] blasts and the blessings of Rosh HaShanah… are [all] required to fulfill one’s obligation. What is the rationale?

Rabbah explains: “The Holy One, blessed be He, says: 'Recite before Me on Rosh HaShanah [the verses of] Malchuyos, Zichronos, and Shofros: Malchuyos, so that you will make Me king over you, Zichronos, so that the remembrance of you will arise before Me for good.’

How will this be accomplished? With the Shofar.”

There is a difference of opinion between Rashi and Tosafos2 with regard to the statement: “The [Shofar] blasts and the blessings of Rosh HaShanah… are [all] required to fulfill one’s obligation.” Rashi interprets our Sages as saying that all of the Shofar blasts and all of the blessings are required, and if a person recites the blessings of Malchuyos, Zichronos, and Shofros , but does not sound the Shofar, or sounds the Shofar, but does not recite the three blessings, he does not fulfill any of his obligations.

Tosafos ,3 by contrast, maintains that the intent is that all the different Shofar blasts are required to fulfill one’s obligation; one must sound all the tekiyos, shevarim, and the teruos. Similarly, all the blessings are required; reciting any one (or two) of the Malchuyos, Zichronos, and Shofros is of no consequence. But a person’s inability to recite the blessings does not detract from his sounding of the Shofar, nor does his inability to sound the Shofar, detract from his recitation of the blessings.

The difference between these two approaches can be explained on the basis of the Ritva’s interpretation of this Talmudic passage. The Ritva explains that the question and the response: “How will this be accomplished? With the Shofar,” refers to both our coronation of G‑d as King, and causing Him to remember us positively. These objectives are achieved by sounding the Shofar after the blessings of Malchuyos and Zichronos.

The Ritva then notes that according to this interpretation, a reason has not been provided for the recitation of the verses of Shofros, and offers two explanations:

a) “There is no need [to explain why the verses of Shofros are recited]. It is obvious that since [one is sounding] the Shofar, the verses of Shofros should also be recited.”

b) “The phrase 'How will this be accomplished? With the Shofar’ refers to the verses of Shofros…. Even a person who does not possess a Shofar should mention [these verses] and affirm [them with] a blessing. This is reflected in the wording of the Tosefta: 'Shofros so that your pray ers will ascend like a Shofar blast,’ i.e., the intent is the recollection of the sounding of the Shofar in prayer.” According to this explanation, the recitation of the verses of Shofros, and not the actual sounding of the Shofar, serves as the catalyst to bring to fruition the purposes of Malchuyos and Zichronos.

To apply these concepts to the difference of opinion between Rashi and Tosafos: Rashi follows the first interpretation mentioned by the Ritva which puts the emphasis on the Shofar blasts as the catalysts that bring to fruition the purposes of Malchuyos and Zichronos. For this reason, he sees the Shofar blasts and the blessings as integrally related one to each other. Thus to fulfill one’s obligation, one must sound all the Shofar blasts and recite all of the blessings; if any one blast or blessing is lacking, the entire sequence is flawed.

Tosafos, by contrast, follows the second interpretation and understands the Beraisa quoted by Rabbah as referring only to the verses of Shofros. Therefore all three blessings are considered as a single unit,4 but there is no integral connection between the blessings and the Shofar blasts.

The differences in the approaches of Rashi and Tosafos can be appreciated as stemming from a more fundamental difference: their conception of the purpose of reciting the verses of Malchuyos, Zichronos, and Shofros. There are two explanations for this purpose:

a) The recitation of these verses brings about G‑d’s Kingship and His positive remembrance of the virtues of the Jewish people. Just as “Whoever occupies themselves with the study of the laws of the burnt offering is considered as if he brought a burnt offering,”5 by mentioning the verses of G‑d’s Kingship, we make Him King as it were. Alternatively, based on our Sages’ statement:6 “The Holy One, blessed be He, Himself observes what is written in His Torah,” by mentioning that the Torah describes Him as a King and as favorably remembering the Jewish people, we compel Him to do so, as it were.

b) G‑d’s Kingship and His positive remembrance of the virtues of the Jewish people are brought about through the prayers we recite. The mention of the verses from the Tanach is intended merely to reinforce these activities.7

One of the differences between these two explanations is the interpretation of the verses of Shofros. According to the first explanation, it is clear that the verses of Shofros serve a different purpose than those of Malchuyos and Zichronos. While the recitation of the verses of Malchuyos and Zichronos themselves bring about the positive spiritual influences they describe, the verses of Shofros are secondary to the actual sounding of the Shofar.

According to the second explanation, by contrast, just as the verses of Malchuyos and Zichronos reinforce the positive effects aroused by our prayers, so too, the verses of Shofros reinforce the positive effects aroused by the sounding of the Shofar.

Thus according to the first explanation, the question and the response of the Beraisa: “How will this be accomplished? With the Shofar, ” does not refer to the verses of Shofros, but rather as explained above according to Rashi’s approach, the sounding of the Shofar itself. According to the second approach, by contrast, there is no difference between the verses of Shofros and the verses of Malchuyos and Zichronos. All three sets of verses serve to reinforce the positive influences aroused by the Divine service of the Jewish people.

According to this explanation, the question and response: “How will this be accomplished? With the Shofar, ” refers to the sounding of the Shofar. Nevertheless, it provides a rationale for the recitation of the verses of Shofros — as explained above with regard to the approach of Tosafos, because the intent of the recitation of all the verses is to reinforce the effects of our Divine service by quoting verses from the Tanach.

A different perspective, however, is evident from the Tosefta. Like the Beraisa cited above, the Tosefta states: “Recite before Me on Rosh HaShanah [the verses of] Malchuyos, Zichronos, and Shofros,” but unlike the Beraisa, it mentions also the Shofros blessings, stating: “Shofros so that your prayers will ascend like a Shofar blast,” which focuses on “the recollection of the sounding of the Shofar in prayer.” Thus according to the Tosefta, the question and response: “How will this be accomplished? With the Shofar, ” refers to the recitation of the verses of Shofros , indicating that the verses of Shofros have an effect beyond that of the Shofar itself.

According to the explanation in the previous section, the verses of Shofros reinforce the influence of the Shofar itself. This follows the pattern indicated by the phrase8 “And Torah is light,” that the Torah causes the influences of the mitzvos to be revealed on this material plane.9 According to the Tosefta, however, the verses of Shofros have an independent effect. Indeed, the words of the Torah (the verses of Shofros) have a more comprehensive influence than the observance of the mitzvos (the actual sounding of the Shofar).10

This concept applies in particular with regard to the verses of Shofros which, as explained in Chassidus,11 foreshadow and anticipate the ultimate revelation of the Era of the Redemption, when G‑d will “sound the great Shofar, and those who are lost in the land of Ashur, and those who were dispersed in the land of Egypt, will bow down to G‑d on the holy mountain in Jerusalem.”12