– Author: Rav Joel Kenigsberg

One of the most perplexing concepts of Rosh Hashana is found in an explanation given by the Gemara as to why we blow the Shofar.

The Gemara[1] asks why we have two distinct sets of Shofar blasts on Rosh Hashana (one before Mussaf, and another during the chazzan’s repetition[2]) and the answer given is perplexing to say the least:

Rosh Hashana 16a-b

Rav Yitzchak says: why do they blow (tekia)  and cry (trua) whist they sit and blow and cry whilst they stand? In order to confuse the Satan

ראש השנה טז:

אמר רבי יצחק למה תוקעין   ומריעין כשהן יושבין ותוקעין ומריעין כשהן עומדין ? כדי לערבב את השטן

Who is this mysterious “satan” and what is it that causes him such great confusion? Rashi explains that the confusion is caused by the fact that Am Yisrael have taken upon themselves the hiddur mitzvah of additional shofar blasts and thus go beyond the letter of the law. However Tosfot provide a somewhat more cryptic answer:


The Aruch explains based on the Yerushalmi – “Death will be swallowed forever” and it states “And it will be on that day that the great shofar will be sounded”. When he hears the sound of the shofar the first time he is confounded. When he hears the second blasts – he says surely this must be the shofar of Mashiach and the end of my time. He becomes confused and doesn’t have time to prosecute.

תוספות ד”ה כדי לערבב

פירש בערוך בירושלמי – בלע המות לנצח וכתיב והיה ביום ההוא יתקע בשופר גדול כד שמע קל שיפורא זימנא חדא בהיל ולא בהיל וכד שמע תניין אמר ודאי זהו שיפורא דיתקע בשופר גדול ומטא זימניה למתבלע ומתערבב ולית ליה פנאי למעבד קטגוריא

Tosfot explains that the “satan” being referred to is the accuser in the Heavenly court. Blowing the shofar twice causes him to become confused, and as his bewildered state renders him unable to provide arguments against us, we emerge righteous from the judgement of Rosh Hashana.

When we blow the shofar the first time, it is clear that we are doing it to perform the mitzvah. But when the shofar blow is heard again, the accuser fears that it is not our doing, but rather the great shofar blow of the time of Mashiach and he understands his time is up.[3]

The obvious question is how and why this trick works every year? Surely it is well known that the double set of shofar blasts has been our custom for many years past? Is our adversary struck with an annual bout of amnesia?

Furthermore, the idea of “confusing the satan” finds additional expressions in halacha. The Rosh[4] based on Pirkei d’Rebi Eliezer states that this is one of the reasons for our custom to blow the shofar throughout the month of Elul.

Additionally, the Shulchan Aruch[5] states that we refrain from blowing the shofar the day before Rosh Hashana. The Mishnah Berurah[6] brings two reasons for this ruling. One is to differentiate between the tekiot that we blow out of custom, and those we blow out of obligation. But another reason brought is in order to confuse the “satan”. Here the idea goes so far as to have tangible halachic ramifications.[7]

Again the concept sounds bizarre. Perhaps there is a deeper message to be conveyed behind this ostensibly fanciful tale.

The Forces within us

In the verses of the Torah which detail the act of creation, there is an interesting grammatical anomaly. When Hashem creates man, the Torah uses the plural verb form – “נעשה אדם” (“Let US make man”). Who exactly was Hashem consulting with when He created mankind? Chazal provide a fascinating answer in Midrash Rabbah:

Breishit Raba 8/5

Rav Simon says: at the time that Hakadosh Baruch Hu came to create Adam Harishon, the angels gathered in groups and groups, and assemblages and assemblages. Some said “don’t create Man” whilst others said “Create”as it is stated “Kindness and truth met, justice and peace kissed” (Tehilim 85)

Kindness said : Create as he does acts of kindness

Truth said: Don’t create as he is all lies

Justice said: Create as he does justice

Peace said: don’t create as he is all about fighting

…Rav Huna the rabbi of Tzipori said: “ Whilst the angels were disputing with each other and dealing with each other – G-d created. He said to them – what are you still discussing? Man has already been created.

בראשית רבה ח ה

אמר רבי סימון: בשעה שבא הקב”ה לבראת את אדם הראשון, נעשו מלאכי השרת כיתים כיתים, וחבורות חבורות, מהם אומרים: אל יברא, ומהם אומרים: יברא, הדא הוא דכתיב (תהלים פה): חסד ואמת נפגשו צדק ושלום נשקו.
חסד אומר: יברא, שהוא גומל חסדים.
ואמת אומר: אל יברא, שכולו שקרים.
צדק אומר: יברא, שהוא עושה צדקות.
שלום אומר: אל יברא, דכוליה קטטה.

ר’ הונא רבה של צפורין אמר: עד שמלאכי השרת מדיינין אלו עם אלו, ומתעסקין אלו עם אלו, בראו הקדוש ברוך הוא.
אמר להן: מה אתם מדיינין, כבר נעשה אדם:

The Midrash describes the Heavenly forces locked in conflict as to whether man should be created or not. The attributes of kindness and mercy claimed that man should be created, since his existence would provide countless opportunities for good and kindliness in the world. The attributes of truth and peace however claimed otherwise – man should not be created, since he would be full of lies and create conflict.  The midrash then goes on to describe how, as they were arguing, Hashem seemingly bypassed these forces and proceeded to create man.

However that would be a superficial reading of the message Chazal are trying to express. The deeper idea behind the midrash is that far from bypassing the argument between these attributes, Hashem indeed took them all into account, and coalesced them together in the creation of man.

Of course the midrash is not meant to be taken literally, and it would be childish to imagine this literal argument taking place in the Heavenly realms. But the message behind it is that man is comprised of, and influenced by, many varied and conflicting attributes. On the one hand he strives to do good and to emulate the Creator with transcendent acts of loving kindness, but along with that he is full of base desires and earthly temptations which pull him down and threaten to sully his existence. The internal tug-of-war between truth and lies, between peace and conflict is a central component of man’s creation. The persistent battle between transience and transcendence is an innate part of the human condition.

Chazal tell us that “satan”, “yetzer hara” and “the angel of death” all refer to the same entity.[8] Perhaps just as in the above quoted midrash the Heavenly attributes refer not to external entities but rather to the forces within each of us, so too the “satan” refers not to an independent being, but to the lower self within each of us distracting us from the real purpose of our existence.[9]

The shofar that we blow on Rosh Hashana is meant to shake us out of complacency. It is a piercing blast that comes to awaken us, to cause us to sit up and take notice of the real reason we are here and not pay attention to the distractions that set us off course. The bewilderment that takes place when we hear that sound is an internal realization of what really matters most.

Perhaps when we blow the shofar the first time round on Rosh Hashana morning, the voice inside is still inclined to say that we’ve been here before and nothing really changed. We had a momentary awakening but there was nothing more to it. Why should this year be any different?

But as we blow the shofar a second time, the inner critic becomes silenced. Yes, we’ve been through this all before. But maybe, just maybe, this year will be different. At some point the great shofar of Mashiach will be blown. At some time in our lives we may have to force ourselves to change. Maybe that time is now.

May the shofar blast resonate within us all and usher in a meaningful new year.

K’tiva veChatima Tova!


[1] Rosh Hashana 16a-b

[2] The Tur (OC 585) explains that the primary set of Shofar blasts are those said according to the order of the brachot during the Mussaf prayer. However strictly speaking we discharge our obligation of the mitzvah of shofar through the thirty blasts we sound before Mussaf.

[3] In the Gemara (Bava Batra 16a) Chazal state that the Yetzer Hara/Satan/Angel of Death all refer to the same entity. Thus the prophecy of “בלע המוות לנצח” refers to his demise.

[4] Rosh Hashana Ch. 4, 14

[5] OC 581:3

[6] 581:24

[7] The Mishnah Berurah discusses the question of whether one may blow the shofar on erev Rosh Hashana in order to learn. According to the first reason it would be permitted, but according to the reason of confusing the “satan” it would be prohibited. The compromise he suggests (quoted from the Eliyah Rabbah) is blowing the shofar to learn in a closed room, which would be permitted according to all opinions.

[8] Bava Batra 16a

[9] This is also the explanation given by Rav Dessler, Michtav Me’Eliyahu Vol.5 Pg 234

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