Blowing Chatzotzrot Today

Taanit (3:1) | Yisrael Bankier | 4 years ago

During the week, we learnt that during a time of atzirat geshamim – when the rainy season has arrived, but it has not yet rained – sets of fasts are observed that increase in severity. We learnt that the final set of fasts are accompanied with the blowing of shofarot. With the beginning of the third perek we learnt that for certain calamities, we blow shofarot immediately.

The Rambam explains that is a mitzvah from the Torah to pray and blow trumpets in the event of a calamity, as it states: "[And if you go to war in your land] against the enemy (tzar) that oppresses you then you shall blow an alarm with your trumpets…" (Bamidar 10:9).

The Magen Avraham (575:1) however asks, since it is a biblical obligation, why is the mitzvah not observed nowadays in time of trouble? He continues, that granted that we do not decree a public fast day outside Israel, nevertheless this does not explain why the biblical mitzvah is not observed.

The Netiv Chaim explains that the mitzvah only applies in Eretz Yisrael as suggested by the beginning of the verse. This explains why we have not historically blown shofarot outside Israel.

The Mishnah Berura (576:1) cites two more answer. The first, restricts the scope of the mitzvah further to only apply when Eretz Yisrael is under our control. Alternatively, the mitzvah only applies to a calamity that befalls a majority of Israel.

The common method in the above answers is reducing the scope of the mitzvah.

The Aruch HaShulchan however provide a technical reason why we do not blow shofarot. He explains that we hold like Rashi and the Tur that the shofarot are sounded after each of the six berachot that are added to the shemona esrei on a public fast day. Since we do not decree a public fast day outside Israel, we do not recite these additional berachot. He notes that while it is true that the berachot are rabbinic while the tekiyot are biblical, since the Chachamim decreed that the location to blow shofarot is during those berachot only, one is not allowed to blow the shofarot. This then would be another example where the Chachamim have the capacity to institute a decree that requires one to passively refrain from performing a biblical mitzvah.

The Beit Meshulam however provides an answer by probing the function of the shofar on a fast day, based on the pasuk "awaken (ura), why do you slumber". Recall that at the end of masechet Maaser Sheni (5:15) we learnt that Yochanan Kohen Gadol put an end to the me'orerim. The Bartenura explains that this means he stopped people saying the above pasuk. By extension, this means he stopped the blowing of shofarot. Why so?

The Beit Meshulam explains that in the past Am Yisrael had strong emumah. Even when it appeared that their prayers were not being answered they would not challenge it. In the times of Yochanan, he saw that the people's faith began to weaken and stopped the recitation of the pasuk. Consequently, according to the Beit Meshulam, the shofarot were stopped along with it. He directs our attention the Tosfot Yom Tov in Maaser Sheni to explain. The Gemara (Sotah 48a) asks how the Leviim could sing, "awaken, why do you slumber?" when there is another pasuk "The Guardian of Yisrael does not sleep". The Gemara explains that our pasuk refer to when Am Yisrael are in distress and that nations are serene, because at that it appears as if Hashem is sleeping. The Tosfot Yom Tov explains, citing the Rambam, that Yochanan Kohen Gadol stopped the practice as they began reciting the pasuk as if they were shouting at Hashem to wake up, which is inappropriate. By extension, we can understand that according to the Beit Meshulam the practice of blowing shofar was also stopped because as the nation's faith began to weaken it was being used with the similar inappropriate intension.

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