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Why One Hundred Blasts?

The Doubt in the Mitzvah of Shofar; The Fight between the Shofar, Sisera’s Mother and The Satan.

On Rosh Hashanah, the custom is to blow 100 blasts with the shofar. The Torah section that sets forth the commandment to blow the shofar speaks of only nine blasts, and the Gemara raises that number to thirty blasts in order to account for variant opinions regarding what constitutes the “teruah” to which the Torah refers.  Why, then, do we blow a further 70 blasts?

The Gemara in Rosh Hashanah presents the following discussion regarding the source of blowing the shofar on Rosh Hashanah:1Rosh Hashanah 16a.

Rabbi Yitzchak said: Why do we blow the shofar on Rosh Hashanah? 

The Gemara immediately responds with a rhetorical query: Why do we blow?  “Rachmana amar ‘tiku’!–The Merciful One said ‘Blow’!”2Tehillim 81:4.

The Gemara concludes that his question must have been a different one: Why does one blow a teruah on Rosh Hashanah?

The Gemara is still surprised by his question.

The Gemara answers: “Rachmana a”mar ‘zichron teruah’!–The Merciful One said it should be ‘a remembrance of teruah!’3Vayikra 23:24.

The Gemara once again revises its understanding of Rabbi Yitzchak’s question to be: Why do we blow the tekiah and the teruah while sitting, and then blow the tekiah and the teruah again while standing?

To this, Rabbi Yitzchak answers: In order to confuse The Satan.

We can look at the source of the commandment of blowing the Shofar to understand it better. And we can ask some questions: How many times do we have to blow the shofar?  How does a teruah sound?  And, how do we keep confusing the Satan year in, year out, until this very year, despite the fact that we have been blowing the tekiah and the teruah in the very same manner for the last few millennia?

9 Blasts

The Torah states:4Bamidbar 29:1.

In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe a sacred occasion: you shall not work at your occupations. You shall observe it as a day of teruah.

Our holy Sages understand from this, that on Rosh Hashanah, which is the first day of the seventh month, there is a mitzvah to blow the shofar.5Rosh Hashanah 33b.

How does one fulfill the mitzvah?
The Mishna says: “The order of the blasts is three sets of three blasts each.”

Rashi explains: “One set for malchiyos, one set for zichronos, and one set for shofaros.”

What does a ‘set’ consist of?

Rashi explains that the three blasts are: “A tekiah, a teruah and a tekiah, for each set.”

So far, we have instructions for three sets each, of the following three blasts: Tekiahteruahtekiah.

These are the 9 sounds that we are instructed to blow on Rosh Hashanah.

30 Blasts

The sages are in doubt regarding what the Torah means by the word teruah, i.e. what is its sound?  Is the teruah like the shevarim, a sighing sound?  Or, is it what we call a teruah, a continuous, wailing sound?  Or, is it both of them together, a combined shevarim-teruah sound?

To make sure we cover all our bases, we blow three sets, one set of each for all the combinations. Each set of 3 blasts, has therefore now become a set of 10 blasts:

  • Option 1: Tekiah, shevarim, tekiah = 3 blasts.
  • Option 2: Tekiah, teruah, tekiah = 3 blasts.
  • Option 3: Tekiah, shevarim–teruah, tekiah = 4 blasts.

Each option is blown thrice. In this way we satisfy the requirement of the mitzvah, by blowing 30 blasts. That calculation seems to be simple enough.

60 Blasts

Let’s go back to the first discussion:

“Why do we blow the tekiah and the teruah whilst sitting, and then blow the tekiah and the teruah again whilst standing?”
“In order to confuse The Satan.”

Here we introduce the idea that we double the number of blasts. We blow 60 blasts, 30 of which are for the purpose of fulfilling the mitzvah and are referred to as the ‘sitting’ blasts because they are blown prior to the Amidah of Mussaf, when a person may sit.

The second 30 of the blasts, are blown in order to confuse the Satan and are referred to as the ‘standing’ blasts since they are blown during the Amidah of Mussaf,

It is the first set, the ‘sitting’ blasts, upon which we make the bracha.

Blowing to Fulfill and Blowing to Confuse

We can clearly perceive that we are blowing two sets of tekios: one to fulfill the mitzvah, and one to confuse The Satan.  Now we need to explore which blasts are actually the ones with which we fulfill the mitzvah?

Rabbeinu Yaakov Baal Haturim says6Tur, Orach Chayim 585. that the baal toke’a, the person who blows the shofar, has to stand whilst blowing the shofar. How do we know this?

The Torah says, “Yom teruah yihye lachem–A day of blowing it shall be to you.” Since the word ‘lachem’ is used when the Torah describes the mitzvah of Omer, during which one must stand, and the same word ‘lachem’ is also used when the Torah describes the mitzvah of blowing the shofar, we derive that tekias shofar must also be performed whilst standing.

Yet, if standing is required, then, how can it be that the first set, where we may sit, is in order to fulfill the mitzvah?  Surely, it would seem, the purpose of the first set is just to confuse The Satan and the real blowing is that of the second set, when the congregation is standing.  On the other hand, the fact that the bracha is recited before the blowing of the ‘sitting’ tekios indicates that it is with those blasts that we fulfill the mitzvah and not with the ‘standing’ tekios.

Thus, the questions remain: Which tekios are blown to fulfill the requirements of the pasuk (which we shall call the tekios d’oraysa), and which are blown for other reasons (we shall call them tekios d’rabbanan)?  Which tekios are we blowing to fulfill the mitzvah, and which are we blowing to confuse the Satan?

Connecting the Shofar and Karpas

Let us reference a discussion that appeared in a previous issue of Kankan, about the mitzvah of eating matzah on Seder night, and regarding using maror for karpas.7Five Kezeisim of Matzah in one night,” Kankan issue 1.

There is another opinion about when we fulfill the Torah obligation of eating matzah on the night of Pesach. The Rashbam in Gemara Pesachim8Pesachim 119b, para. “Ein Maftirin”. holds, that we fulfill the mitzvah with the eating of the afikomen! Yes, you heard right. We are fulfilling the mitzvah, at the end of the Seder and not earlier! The Rashbam explains, “Just as in the time of the Beis Hamikdash, one fulfilled the obligation with the matzah eaten at the end of the meal together with the Korban Pesach, so too [in a seder nowadays], we fulfill our obligation with the matzah eaten at the end of the meal.

According to the Rashbam, the obvious question is, why do we make a bracha on the matzah earlier as opposed to at the end of the meal when we are actually fulfilling the mitzvah?

The Rashbam explains that we must eat matzah for the Yom Tov meal.  However, it would not make sense to make the bracha “Al achilas matzah” after the meal, once a person has already eaten their fair share of matzah. Therefore, the bracha is recited earlier, even though the fulfillment of the mitzvah takes place by the afikomen.

This position is actually based on Rav Chisda’s opinion, regarding using the same vegetable for karpas that will be used for maror, where no other vegetable is available for karpas:9Pesachim 114b, translation based on Steinsaltz.

The Gemara asks: When should one recite the blessing for the mitzvah of maror?  Rav Huna said: One initially recites the blessing: Borei peri ha’adamah, over the maror, and eats them [as karpas]. After reading the Haggadah, and after the matzah, one recites the blessing: Al achilas maror, over the maror, and eats it [as maror].

Rav Chisda strongly objects to this opinion: Do you think that after one fills his stomach with maror, he then recites another blessing over it?  Rather, Rav Chisda said: Initially one recites two blessings over the maror: Borei p’ri ha’adamah and Al achilas maror, and he eats it [as karpas], and later in the seder he eats the maror [as maror] without a blessing.

Rav Chisda introduces the idea that one makes the required bracha over the mitzvah, and technically, does the mitzvah, even though, in fact, he will only actually fulfill the obligation to do the mitzvah at a later point. The Gemara rules in accordance with Rav Chisda in this dispute.

The Rashbam draws a parallel with eating matzah.  Regarding fulfilling the obligation for eating matzah, a person makes the bracha and eats the matzah earlier on in the meal, even though he only fulfills the obligation later on upon eating the afikomen.

Let’s apply these two opinions to our case.

If the first tekios, during which we may sit, are not the tekios we are actually fulfilling the mitzvah with, then : according to Rav Huna, one is required to make the bracha prior to the second set of tekios, because it is that set with which we fulfill the mitzvah. According to Rav Chisda, however, one recites the bracha before the first set, even though it is blown only to confuse the Satan,10See Tosafos Pesachim 115a para. “Makif.” similar to the making of a bracha of al achilas maror before eating karpas even though we will only fulfill the mitzvah of maror later on.

Let’s summarize: We blow two sets of tekios, the first set is for the purpose of confusing The Satan, while the second set is blown to fulfill the mitzvah. At this point in the discussion, the requirement is to blow 60 blasts in total.

Only 40 Blasts!

Let us turn to the Rambam, and see how he explains the order of how to fulfill the mitzvah of blowing the shofar:11Mishneh Torah, Shofar, Chapter 3. Sefaria Edition. Translated by R. Francis Nataf, 2019

How many blasts is one obligated to hear on Rosh Hashanah?  Nine blasts, since it is stated “teruah” with regards to the jubilee year and to Rosh Hashanah, three times. Every teruah requires a simple blast (tekiah) before it and a simple blast after it…

Due to the length of the years and the great [burdens] of exile, we have a doubt about this teruah that is mentioned in the Torah, and we do not know how it is.

It may be the wail that women wail amongst themselves, at the time that they weep. Or it may be the sigh, that one sighs, time after time, whilst his heart is worried about a big thing.  Or both of them together, the sigh and the wail — as it is the way [of a wail] to come after [a sigh] — may be called teruah.  For this is the way of a worrier, to first sigh, and then wail.  Hence, we do all [three possibilities].

The wail is what we [today] call teruah (even though it is only one possibility of what the Torah meant by the word). The sighing — this after that — is what we call three shevarim. It comes out that the order of shofar blasts is like this: One recites the blessing and blows — a tekiah, three shevarim after it, a teruah after that and a tekiah after [the teruah]. And he goes over this order three times. Then he blows — a tekiah, three shevarim after it and a tekiah after that. And he goes over this order three times. Then he blows — a tekiah, a teruah after it and a tekiah after that. And he goes over this order three times. It comes out that the number of blasts is thirty, in order to avoid a doubt.

The community is obligated to hear the tekios according to the order of the blessings (of the silent amidah prayer). How is that?  The prayer leader says [the three standard introductory blessings known as], avot (forefathers), gevurot, (strengths) and kedushat Hashem (sanctity of the Name). Then he says [the pesukim of] malchios (kingships); and blows three blows. He then says, zichronos (remembrances) and blows three blows. Then he says shofaros (shofar blows) and blows three blows. And he [concludes with the concluding sections known as] avodah (service), hodayah (thanksgiving) and Birkat Hakohanim (the blessing of the priests).

The widespread custom about the order of the public [shofar] blowing on Rosh Hashanah is like this: After we read from the Torah and return the Torah scroll to its place, all of the people sit; and one [of them] stands and recites the blessing, “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us to listen to the sound of the shofar.” And all the people answer, “Amen.” And he then recites the blessing, “Who has kept us alive;” and all the people answer “Amen” after him. And he blows the thirty blows that we mentioned [were] on account of the doubt, according to [their] order.

Up to here, everything that the Rambam says is easy to understand. However, the next passage challenges our understanding:

It would have been appropriate that they would blow all of the sets for each blessing [of the silent Amidah prayer], in the way that they blew [them] when they were sitting. However, since they have already [covered] the doubt with the blows of [when they were] seated, we do not burden the community to repeat them all during the order of the blessings. Rather one set in each blessing is enough for them, so that they hear [shofar] blows during the order of the blessings.

The Rambam’s position here is clear. The first set of tekios are the ones with which we are fulfilling the mitzvah; these are the tekios d’oryasa.

If so, why do we blow the second set of tekios?

The Rambam explains that we need to blow another set, in accordance with the pesukim of malchiyos, zichronos and shofaros (‘the p’sukei’). In fact, according to the Rambam, we should have blown a whole set12A series contains a tekiah at the beginning and the end, and a shevarim-teruah, shevarim or teruah, between them. of blows at each phase of the p’sukei. Thus, a baal toke’a should blow 4 sets of tekios, a total of 120 blasts. However, since the community has already fulfilled the mitzvah with the first set of blows, there is no need to blow again. Three sets, a single series of blasts at each p’sukei, is enough. This brings the total number of blasts to only 40 blasts.

We now have two very different approaches to the respective purposes of the two sets:

  1. The first set is to confuse The Satan, and second is to fulfill the mitzvah.
  2. The first set is to fulfill the mitzvah, and the remainder are blown whilst saying the p’sukei, i.e. malchiyos, zichronos and shofaros.

The very next step should be to clarify the matter to the end, by opening the Shulchan Aruch and having a look at how this mitzvah is codified.

Here is where things become really puzzling.

Neither the Mechaber, Rabbi Yosef Karo of Tzefas, nor his contemporary, the Remah, Rabbi Moshe Isserles of Cracow, discuss which is the set of tekios with which we fulfill the mitzvah. The Shulchan Aruch has codified each and every halacha. But when it comes to the mitzvah of shofar – where there is a halachic debate regarding which set of blasts fulfill the mitzvah – we are met with a deafening silence.

Does that mean that we do not know with certainty which set is d’oraysa?

Blow Some More! 100 Blasts and Eim Sisera

Either way, we have only clarified the custom of blowing either 40 or 60 blasts. However, we blow 100 blasts.  What is the reason for that?

The Aruch13Rav Nosson ben Yechiel Mi’Romi, the Aruch. presents a new custom. The Aruch is introduced to us in Tosafos:14Rosh Hashanah 33b, para. “Shiur Teruah.”

Those who are stringent and they blow 30 whilst seated, 30 at the tefillah belachash [silent shemonei esre], and another 30 on the order [the p’sukei malchiyos, zichronos, and shofaros], these are against the 100 cries the mother of Sisera cried.15Rabbeinu Chananel (Rosh Hashana 35a) brings a source for this idea from the Gemara Yerushalmi, however, this reference is not found in today’s editions of the Yerushalmi. The last 10 are the ones after the tefillah.

What is the connection between the mitzvah of shofar and Sisera’s mother?

The debate as to what the sound of the terua should be, is rooted in the cry of Sisera’s mother. Sisera was a mighty Canaanite army general, who oppressed Israel for twenty years. Sisera’s mother awaited her son’s return from war with the Israelites. When she realized that he was not coming back, she cried out.16Shoftim 5.

As mentioned above, the mitzvah of shofar is found in the pasuk that states,”Yom teruah yihyeh lachem.” The sages turn to Targum Onkelos to learn what the term teruah refers to. Onkelos translates these words as, “Yom yabava yehei l’chon.”  We see that teruah translates as ‘yebava’. The same shoresh is used when the pasuk refers to Sisera’s mother cry, “Va’teyabev eim Sisera.”  We now know the yabava-teruah refers to a crying sound.

But the Aruch reveals that the actual practice of the mitzvah of the shofar has a further connection to the wailing of Sisera’s mother.  He writes that she cried 100 cries, and we, blow 100 blasts to match her cries. He does not elaborate, however, about the connection of her cries to the mitzvah of blowing shofar.

Age-Long War with Samael

Perhaps we will find a satisfying explanation by studying two passages in the holy Zohar. The first of these appears in connection with the episode of Avimelech and Yitzchak Avinu:17Zohar 1:140b.

…Avimelech was wise and looked at the wisdom of the stars, which is called a ‘window’, as it is written here, “out of a window”, and elsewhere, “The mother of Sisera looked out of a window.”18Bereshis 26:8. As there [it refers to] astrology, so here [it refers to] to astrology.

The second passage is from the scene of krias Yam Suf:19Zohar 2:51b.

We learned that at that time, the reigning minister who was appointed over Egypt came and gathered six hundred chariots of persecutors, with six hundred appointed ruling prosecuting officers on every single chariot. This is what is written, “And he took six hundred chosen chariots…”20Shemos 14:7.

He asks: Were not the six hundred chosen chariots, the chariots of Egypt?  For what reason does it say afterward: “And all the chariots of Egypt?”

He answers: We learned that ‘Samael’ loaned six hundred prosecuting chariots to help the patron angel of Egypt.

This is what is written, “And he took six hundred chosen chariots,” [it means] that those were not [under the ownership] of Egypt.

When did the Holy One, blessed be He, repay ‘Samael’?  It was during the wars of Sisera that the Holy One, blessed be He, uprooted all these chariots and they were given over to the hands of the Queen…

From these passages in Zohar, we learn two new concepts:

That the war of Sisera was a war between good and evil, waged against the leadership of Samael.

Sisera’s mother wasn’t merely an innocent mother who cried whilst waiting for her beloved son. She played a great part in her son’s war through the use of her knowledge of astrology.

The word ‘Samael’ when written in Hebrew spells “Sa’mech Mem – El.” The numerical equivalent of the letters Samech and Mem equals 100.  Even a fairly superficial investigation reveals that there is more to the 100 blasts that we blow than meets the eye.

Another Method of Confusion

There is one more thing we need to clarify.  According to the Rambam, one should blow only 40 blasts. If one does that, how does one confuse The Satan?

Rashi introduces a new method to confuse The Satan:21Rosh Hashanah 16b, para. K’dei l’arvev.

When he [the Satan] hears that the Jews cherish the mitzvos, his words get blocked!

Rabbeinu Chananel, explains further:

When the Jews do the mitzvos with all the stringencies and enhancements, to show Hashem how they cherish His commandments, The Satan sees the Jews blowing the shofar, whilst seated, and then again whilst standing, and he loses his courage to speak ill of them.

This is another way to completely achieve victory over The Satan each and every year.

What emerges from this discussion is that there are two approaches to fulfill the mitzvah, and also in this way, this works to confuse the Satan:

We initially blow 30 blasts that are d’rabannan, to confuse The Satan. Then we blow a second set of 30 blasts that are d’oraysa, to fulfill the mitzvah.  We blow the rest of the blasts in order to reach a total of 100 blasts.


We initially blow 30 blasts that are d’oraysa, to fulfill the mitzvah. Then we blow another set of 10 blasts according to the Rambam (although commonly, actually 30 blasts) in conjunction with the p’sukei malchiyos, zichronos and shofaros. We thus confuse The Satan by doing the mitzvah with all possible options.

We Agree to Disagree; Shanah Tovah to All

We remain uncertain whether we blow the shofar according to the first approach or the second. Our analysis of how many blasts we blow and why, shows us that there are different opinions as to how many times we have to blow the shofar. There are different opinions as to which sounds comprise the Shofar blowing. There are different opinions as to which set of blasts we fulfill the mitzvah with. We perform the mitzvah of shofar, while preserving the different opinions as to how to fulfill the mitzvah!

We leave it undecided, and we try to fulfill all possible options. Our love of the precious mitzvah and our best attempts to fulfill the mitzvah in the best way possible, prevents The Satan from blocking our shofar blasts, each and every year.

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