2002Rosh Hashanah is cryptically described in the Torah as follows:
When You Can't Blow, You Can Remember
"...In the seventh month on the first day of the month, you shall observe complete rest, a sacred occasion remembering the loud blasts." (Leviticus 23:24)
Your Torah Navigator
"...a sacred occasion remembering the loud blasts." What does this sacred occasion commemorate?
Midrash Vayikra Rabba 29:12
Rabbi Yochanan and Resh Lakish were sitting around challenging each other saying, "When the first day of Rosh Hashanah falls on Shabbat, in the Temple they would blow the shofar, but not anywhere else. If it's [shofar blowing] a commandment from the Torah, one should blow the shofar everywhere on Shabbat, and if it isn't a commandment from the Torah, they shouldn't even be allowed to blow it in the Temple!"
While they were struggling with this issue, Rav Kahane came by. They said, a man of learning and tradition has come, let's go ask him. So they did.
He answered them:
One verse says, "remembering the loud blasts" and another verse says "a day when the horn is sounded." (Numbers 29:1)
How are these verses consistent with each other? When Rosh Hashanah occurs on Shabbat we remember the loud blasts, but we do not actually make the sounds. [When it doesn't fall on Shabbat, we do make the sounds.]
Your Midrash Navigator
1. Does Rav Kahane think that blowing the shofar on Rosh Hashanah is a mitzvah from the Torah?
2. Why, according to him, does the mitzvah not apply on Shabbat?
3. What requires more of you, blowing the shofar or the memory of blowing it?
Rav Kahane cleverly solves the problem by saying that both blowing and not blowing fulfill different verses of the Torah. He adduces that "remembering the loud blasts" is referring to the fact that we do not blow the shofar on Shabbat, but does not answer why we would blow the shofar on Shabbat in the Temple. The Talmud answers that it was permissible to blow the shofar on Shabbat everywhere, but the rabbis made a decree that one should not do so, lest someone carry a shofar in the public domain in order to learn how to blow it. (Rosh Hashanah 29b)
Nevertheless, Rav Kahane is onto something. It is bizarre that a day that is defined by sound should ever be celebrated with silence. How is one to understand this if it is not alluded to in the Torah?
It is as if Rav Kahane wants to say there will be times when re-enactment is appropriate and there are times when you will have only memory. You will remember the sound without actually hearing the sound. Instead you will focus on the sound by being acutely aware of its absence. It will be through the force of your mind alone that God will be removed from the throne of judgment to the throne of mercy. It will be through your concentration alone and not through the intermediary of the shofar. This Shabbat, for those who do not hear the shofar, our memory has to be enough, for it is our minds and hearts that truly have to do the work.
Prepared by Rabbi Avi Weinstein, Director, Joseph Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Learning.