When Tekias Shofar Goes Wrong

Every year before Rosh Hashanah, Rav Goldberg reviews the halachos of shofar blowing with the shul’s Baal Tekiah (shofar blower, also called a master blaster). This year, the Baal Tekiah, Reb Muttel, had more questions than usual.

“I have been a Baal Tekiah for several years now,” began Reb Muttel. “Each year, I feel a stronger sense of responsibility and privilege. Privilege, because it is through my shofar blowing that the whole shul joins Jews around the world in the coronation of Hashem as King. Also, the shofar is a wake-up call to teshuva and reminds us of many historical events in our history including Matan Torah and Akeidas Yitzchak. At the same time, it is an awesome responsibility to blow the shofar correctly, so that everyone fulfills his obligation of hearing Tekiahs shofar according to halacha.”

“Not every blast is perfect,” continued Reb Muttel, “and I’m curious to know when a blast is acceptable and when it must be repeated. I’d also like to know why sometimes I am told to repeat just a blast, and at other times I am told to repeat several. I have also been in shullen where the entire series of nine or more blasts was repeated. In short, I would like a deeper understanding of the halachos.”

Rav Goldberg realized that it would take several sessions to teach Muttel all the details of shofar blowing. Before presenting a synopsis of their discussion, an introduction is in order.

THE TORAH’S MITZVAH OF SHOFAR

As in many other mitzvos, there is no clear command in the Written Torah to blow the shofar on Rosh Hashana. The Torah does refer to Rosh Hashanah as “Yom Teruah,” but this could be translated either as “a day of crying,” a “day of praying” or a “day of shofar blowing.” It is the Torah Sheba’al Peh that teaches that there is a mitzvah min haTorah to blow shofar. The mitzvah is to blow a long straight sound, a Tekiah, then a broken sound, and then another Tekiahh. These three sounds are repeated three times for a total of nine sounds.

“How do we know that Teruah is a broken sound in the first place?” asked Reb Muttel.

Targum Onkelos translates the word Teruah as ‘yevavah,’ which means crying”, replied the Rav. “This teaches us that the Teruah is a broken, crying sound (Rosh Hashanah 33b). However, it is not clear from the Targum what type of crying sound ‘Teruah’ means. The Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 34a) reports that Rabbi Abahu was uncertain whether Teruah is a series of sobs (what we call Shevarim); a staccato, panting cry (Teruah) or a combination of both, first sobbing and then panting (Shevarim-Teruah). To be certain that we fulfill the Torah’s obligation, he mandated blowing three different series, each with a different broken sound. Each broken sound is blown three times to fulfill the Torah mitzvah and each one is preceded and followed by a Tekiah. Thus, Rabbi Abahu’s institution results in a total of thirty shofar sounds:

Tekiah, Shevarim-Teruah, Tekiah (TaSHRaT) three times,

Tekiah, Shevarim, Tekiah (TaSHaT) three times,

Tekiah, Teruah, Tekiah (TaRaT) three times.”

But why didn’t Rabbi Abahu institute to simply blow Tekiah, Shevarim, Teruah, Tekiah (the TaSHRaT mentioned before) three times? This way, a person would blow all three varieties of broken sound three times, and each would be surrounded by two Tekiyos.

The Gemara explains that if the mitzvah is to blow only a Shevarim, blowing a Teruah immediately after the Shevarim is an interruption that invalidates the mitzvah. Similarly, if the mitzvah is to blow only a Teruah, then the Shevarim interrupts between the Tekiah and the Teruah and invalidates the mitzvah. Thus, the only way to fulfill the mitzvah correctly is to blow three series, one with each type of broken sound (Shevarim, Teruah, and Shevarim-Teruah) in the middle.

“This last statement of the Gemara teaches us an important lesson,” pointed out Rav Goldberg. “If one blows an inappropriate sound between the Tekiah and the correct broken sound, that series is invalid. Early poskim dispute how much of the series is invalid and must be blown again. The stringent opinion contends that one must begin the series again. The lenient opinion rules that it suffices to return to the most recent Tekiah; and that the earlier sounds are kosher (Tur end of 590). There is a very interesting story related to this dispute that we will discuss shortly.”

WHY DON’T WE BLOW A TERUAHSHEVARIM?

The Gemara points out that Rabbi Abahu omitted a fourth option — He did not require a Teruah followed by a Shevarim. The Gemara explains that this combination was omitted because the Torah’s Teruah is a broken sound that imitates human crying, and it is unusual for a crying person to pant and then sob afterwards; therefore, this sound cannot be what the Torah commanded.

AN ALTERNATIVE INTERPRETATION

There is another explanation why Rabbi Abahu instituted three different Teruah sounds. Rav Hai Gaon contends that the mitzvah of tekias shofar is fulfilled with ANY broken sound. In his opinion, blowing three times either TaSHRaT or TaShaT or TaRaT or any combination of the three fulfills the Torah mitzvah. In Rav Hai’s opinion, Rabbi Abahu instituted the blowing of thirty shofar sounds for a different reason.

In Rabbi Abahu’s day, communities blew the broken, crying sound in different ways. In some communities, Shevarim was blasted, others blew what we call Teruah (short, staccato sounds), while others blew Shevarim-Teruah. Rabbi Abahu was concerned that an unlearned person visiting different communities might conclude that there is a dispute as to how to blow shofar. To avoid even the appearance of conflict, Rabbi Abahu instituted that all Jews observe all three customs.

Thus, we have two different explanations why Rav Abahu instituted the blowing of thirty shofar sounds. The first opinion, which is held by most poskim, contends that blowing thirty sounds guarantees that we have fulfilled the Torah’s mitzvah. The second opinion maintains that we blow thirty sounds to avoid the appearance of a machlokes.

AN INTERESTING STORY AND ITS EXPLANATION

Almost nine hundred years ago, on Rosh Hashanah 4905/1144, the shofar blower of Mainz, a community with many Talmidei Chachomim, erred in the middle of the blowing. After blasting two kosher rounds of “TaSHRaT” he made a mistake in the third round. Instead of blowing a three-part Shevarim and then a Teruah, he mistakenly blew two parts of a Shevarim and then began blowing the Teruah. Immediately realizing his error, the Baal Tekiah stopped blowing the Teruah after only one staccato beat. The question was how to continue.

A dispute ensued among the scholarly congregants. Some advocated that ALL the TaSHRaT soundings be blown again. Apparently, they contended that ANY inappropriate sound blown in the middle of the shofar blowing invalidates the entire series. Since TaSHRaT is blown to fulfill one interpretation of the Torah’s mitzvah, any inappropriate blast blown in the middle invalidates that entire attempt, and the series must be begun again.

Other opinions were more lenient. They contended that the sounds already blown need not be repeated. In their opinion, only a sound that has halachic status invalidates a series, not a sound that is neither a Shevarim nor a Teruah. Furthermore, they felt that in a case where the sounds need to be repeated, such as where an unnecessary Teruah was blown in the middle, one need return only to the Tekiah preceding the errant broken sound. Thus, in a case where someone blew in the third TaSHRaT Tekiah, Shevarim-Teruah, Teruah, the last Tekiah and Shevarim-Teruah need to be blown again, but no earlier sounds.

In Mainz, 1144, the first group had its way, and the Baal Tekiah started blowing again from the very beginning.

After Rosh Hashanah, the shaylah was referred to the gedolim, Rav Elyakim bar Yosef and the Raavan, who ruled that the second group was correct. The Raavan also contended that the extra blasts blown desecrated Yom Tov, since they were unnecessary, and blowing shofar on Yom Tov is permitted only to perform the mitzvah (Rosh, Rosh Hashanah 4:11).

Returning to Muttel’s lessons with Rav Goldberg, the Rav pointed out that if THREE Teruah sounds are blown in the wrong place, such as before the Shevarim is completed, the Tekiah before it is invalidated. This is because a Teruah blown before a Shevarim is an invalid sound. In this situation, the two opinions quoted above will dispute whether the first two rounds of TaSHRaT must also be blown again.

HOW LONG IS A TERUAH?

"I am confused," protested Reb Muttel. “Why did you say that three short sounds are considered a Teruah? Doesn’t a Teruah have nine sounds?”

“Actually, not everyone agrees that a Teruah requires nine sounds,” the rav replied patiently. “According to Rashi, a Teruah need be only three sounds. The Riva and Rivam disagree, contending that the Teruah must be at least nine sounds. Since everyone agrees that a Teruah may have extra sounds, we blow a Teruah nine sounds long, which is kosher according to all opinions.”

What happens if the shofar blower blew a Teruah shorter than nine sounds?

According to Rashi, one has fulfilled the mitzvah, provided the Teruah was at least three sounds long. According to Riva and Rivam, one has not. The rav or posek in the shul will pasken whether to blow the Teruah again. The Mishnah Berurah (590:12) rules that it is unnecessary to repeat the Teruah. However, if the rav rules that the Teruah should be repeated, the Tekiah preceding the Teruah must also be repeated. Since, according to Rashi, the short Teruah is kosher, blowing another Teruah without repeating the Tekiah interrupts between the Teruah and the Tekiah.

HOW LONG MUST THE SHEVARIM BE?

A Shevarim must be a minimum of three broken sounds, each called a shever. The shever should preferably be as long as three swift, staccato sounds (three “kochos”), making the entire Shevarim the length of nine staccato sounds (Mishnah Berurah 590:13).

However, there are opinions that each shever should be shorter than three staccato sounds, making the entire Shevarim about the length of six staccato sounds (Tosafos, Rosh Hashanah 32b; first opinion quoted in Shulchan Aruch 590:3; Mateh Efrayim). In some communities, the practice is to blow some of the Shevarim according to this opinion.

ANOTHER STORY FROM ROSH HASHANAH, 4905/1144.

“Is it kosher to blow a Shevarim of four or five sounds?” asked Muttel.

“To answer that, we must return to that memorable Rosh Hashanah almost nine hundred years ago in Mainz,” explained Rav Goldberg. “After blowing Tekiah, Shevarim, Tekiah, twice without incident, the Baal Tekiah blew a successful Tekiah and then a Shevarim that was four sounds instead of the usual three. The congregation considered this sound invalid and made him begin the blowing of TaSHaT from the beginning, repeating a total of eight sounds (the entire TaSHaT twice and a new Tekiah and Shevarim). Rabbi Elyakim bar Yosef took them to task for two different reasons. Even if there was a need to repeat the blowing, they did not need to blow the two previous TaSHaT blowings again, since they were successful blowings. (As we learned above, they held that a bad sound invalidates the entire series.) In addition, Rav Elyakim ruled that the Shevarim of four sounds is perfectly valid; there is nothing wrong with adding an extra shever to the Shevarim (Tosafos, Rosh Hashanah 33b; Rosh). We rule, like Rav Elyakim, that an extra shever does not invalidate a Shevarim; however, it is preferable to blow a Shevarim that is exactly three sounds out of deference to the scholars of Mainz who disagreed (see Mishnah Berurah 590:11).

HOW IS THE SHEVARIM BLOWN?

Some poskim contend that each short shever sound should change pitch in the middle, either once or twice. Some people refer to these as “tu-u-tu” or “UU-tu” or “tu-UU” shevarim sounds.

Others contend that the shever sound should be without change in pitch – and should sound exactly like a very short Tekiah. Each community should follow the ruling of its rav or its established custom.

HOW LONG MUST THE TEKIAH BE?

There are several opinions. Whereas Ravad’s opinion is that every Tekiah must be nine kochos regardless of which broken sound it accompanies (Hilchos Shofar 3:4), Tosafos and most rishonim contend that the Tekiah must be as long as the broken sound that it accompanies. (Each “koach” is the length of a minimum beat. The entire Shevarim-Teruah can be blown in about three seconds. Therefore, the Tekiah before and after the Shevarim-Teruah should also be that long [Mateh Efrayim; Mishnah Berurah 590:14, 15]). Since the length of both the Shevarim and the Teruah are disputed, as mentioned above, the length of the Tekiah is also disputed. According to the Riva and Rivam, the combined length of a Shevarim-Teruah is about eighteen kochos, or perhaps a bit longer to accommodate the length of the pause in the middle.

According to Rashi’s opinion that the Teruah need be only three kochos and the Shevarim only six-to-nine kochos, the Tekiah accompanying the Shevarim-Teruah need be only nine-to-twelve kochos long.

Based on the above, the poskim conclude that the Tekiah for TaSHRaT should preferably be a bit more than eighteen kochos long, whereas the Tekiah for TaSHaT and TaRaT need be only nine kochos long.

What if the Tekiah ended earlier? It is not unusual for the tekiyos that accompany TaSHRaT to be less than eighteen kochos long. Again, the rav will make the decision. (For example, the Mateh Efrayim rules that a Tekiah for TaSHRaT that was only nine kochos long is kosher bedei’evid, after the fact.)

SHOULD THE BLOWER PAUSE BETWEEN THE SHEVARIM AND THE TERUAH?

This interesting question is an early dispute. According to most opinions, there should be only a slight interruption between the Shevarim and Teruah of the Shevarim-Teruah (ruling of most rishonim, as explained by the Mishnah Berurah 590:18.) It should be noted that according to the Chazon Ish (Orach Chayim 136:1) and the Avnei Nezer (Orach Chayim #443), there should be no interruption whatsoever between the Shevarim and the Teruah. Some even contend that a significant interruption between the Shevarim and the Teruah invalidates the blowing (see Mishnah Berurah 590:16 and Shaar HaTziyun ad loc.). Rabbeinu Tam disagrees, maintaining that someone would not change from a sobbing cry to a panting cry without stopping for a breath in between. Therefore, he maintains that one should pause, although not extensively, between the Shevarim and the Teruah.

HOW DO WE RULE IN THIS ISSUE?

There are different customs. Some communities follow Rabbeinu Tam’s opinion and blow every Shevarim-Teruah with a brief pause in the middle (Rama 590:4). However, most congregations today follow the Chayei Adam’s recommendation that the Shevarim-Teruah of the first blowings (before Musaf) be blown without a pause, whereas the Baal Tekiah should pause between Shevarim and Teruah when blowing during the repetition of Shemoneh Esrei.

Incidentally, the shofar soundings blown during Musaf should be treated with the same degree of importance as those blown earlier. According to many poskim, they are the main mitzvah of shofar blowing (see Tosafos, Pesachim 115a s.v. maskif; Mishnah Berurah.)

WHAT IF A WOMAN CANNOT BE IN SHUL FOR BOTH SETS OF SHOFAR BLOWINGS?

Shofar blowing is one of the time-bound positive mitzvos (mitzvas aseh shehazman grama) from which women are exempt. Nevertheless, generations of women have been careful to hear shofar blowing, just as they are careful to shake the lulav and esrog on Sukos, another time-bound mitzvah from which they are exempt. Many poskim rule that since women have assumed responsibility to hear shofar blowing, they are now required to (Chayei Adam 141:7; however, see Shu’t Salmas Chayim #349, who disagrees). However, a woman does not need to hear more than thirty shofar sounds, although it is meritorious for her to hear the sounds blown during the repetition of Shmoneh Esrei.

DOES A WOMAN MAKE A BRACHA ON SHOFAR BLOWING?

The rishonim dispute whether one can recite a bracha on a mitzvah that one is not commanded to perform. Some contend that women should not recite the bracha, because one cannot say “asher kidishanu bi’mitzvosav vitzivanu,” “He who sanctified us in His mitzvos and commanded us,” when Hashem never commanded them to perform this mitzvah. Sefardim follow this opinion, and, therefore, Sefardic women do not recite a bracha on mitzvos such as shofar and lulav. Ashkenazim rule that one may recite vitzivanu even if one is not personally obligated, since Klal Yisrael collectively observes the mitzvos.

For the above reason, an Ashkenazic woman who did not hear the first blowings should recite the bracha before the shofar soundings during the repetition of Shemoneh Esrei or at the end of davening.

WHY DO WE BLOW SHOFAR BOTH DURING MUSAF AND DURING THE REPETITION OF SH’MONEH ESREI?

The shofar is blown to remind us of many things, including that it is a wakeup call to do teshuvah, and that it will herald Moshiach. The Gemara explains that we repeat the shofar blowings, that is, we blow both before the Shemoneh Esrei and during Musaf, in order to confuse the Satan and prevent him from prosecuting us (Rosh Hashanah 16b). This is surprising. Is the Satan so easily fooled? Most of us have first-hand experience with the Satan, and have found him to be extremely clever. Does he not remember that we pulled the same prank on him in previous years and blew the shofar twice?

Tosafos explains the Gemara more deeply. The Satan is constantly afraid that Moshiach will come and put him out of business. The first time the shofar is blown, the Satan is very stressed. When he hears the shofar being blown for the second time, he is convinced that Moshiach has come, and that his job is over! By the time he realizes that it is just Rosh Hashanah again, he has lost his opportunity.

How nice it would be if we sat on the edge of our chairs waiting for Moshiach with the same intensity as the Satan!

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