A Bent Shofar on Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah (3:5) | Yisrael Bankier | 11 years ago

The Mishnah discusses the ideal shofar for Rosh Hashanah. The first opinion is that it should be the straight horn from a yael (wild goat) (3:3). R’ Yehuda however argues that it should be a bent ram’s horn (3:5). Since the Mishnah earlier (3:2) stated that any shofar may be used (with the exclusion of a bull’s horn) presumably the debate regarding the type of horn for Rosh Hashanah is referring only to ideal circumstances; given a choice.

The following Rambam is therefore surprising (Shofar 1:1): “The Shofar that is blown on Rosh Hashanah and Yovel is the ram’s horn that is bent…” The Magid Mishneh explains that the Rambam is siding with some of the commentators (explaining the position of R’ Levi, Rosh Hashanah 26b) that on Rosh Hashanah only a bent shofar can be used. Indeed the Raavad argues that the requirement of a bent shofar is only for an added mitzvah, yet one would still fulfill the mitzvah of shofar if a straight shofar was used. We shall try to understand the position of the Rambam.

Let us first return the debate in our Mishnah. The Gemara explains that R’ Yehuda,who requires a bent shofar, maintains that it is better that one bends one’s thoughts and is humble before Hashem. Rashi explains that in one’s tefillah his eyes are turned down, based on the pasuk “My eyes and heart will always be there” (Melachim I 9:3). The Tana Kama however argues that straightness in thought is preferred. Rashi explains that this position is based on the pasuk, “We will lift our hearts to our hands…” (Eicha 3:41) and so on Rosh Hashanah a straight shofar should be use “for it is tefillah”. Clear?

Rav Soloveitchik (Harerei Kedeim 7) explains that the pesukim cited by Rashi are those used in the debate regarding the direction that one’s eyes should be turned during prayer (Yevamot 105b). The first pasuk used to support the position that one should look downward, while the later supporting the position that one should look up. Consequently Rashi understands that the debate here is tied to the debate there. Put simply, shofar is considered like prayer.

With this in mind Rav Soloveitchik continues to explain that the Rambam, who maintains that a bent shofar must be used on Rosh Hashanah, does not view the aspect of prayer in shofar as a simple adage or hiddur. Rather prayer is the mitzvah of shofar. Putting it together, if one’s eyes must be turned downward during prayer, then one must use a bent shofar on Rosh Hashanah.

The Rav raises an issue with this understanding. The Gemara (28a) explains that if one blows a shofar for musical reasons, he still fulfills the mitzvah of shofar because the fulfillment of mitzvot do not require kavana (intent). The Rav however adds that the exception to this rule is prayer, where one minimally requires kavana that he is praying. If shofar is equated with tefillah then one should not have fulfilled his obligation of shofar if he played it for music.

The Rav answers by differentiating between the person blowing the shofar and the shofar itself. The shofar itself must be fit for prayer. The fulfillment of prayer however does not prevent the mitzvah of shofar. He explains that we find something similar with respect to lulav. While a lulav must be large enough for shaking, holding but neglecting to shake the four species does not prevent the fulfillment of the mitzvah.


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