Malchiyot Zichronot and Shofarot

by Morris Dweck
Rosh Hashanah 2007


In the torah it states that we are obligated to blow a Tekiah and Teruah. A tekiah is one long blast. The Gemara explains that the Aramaic translation for teruah is 'yebaba'. This means to cry, as seen from the Navi, when it uses that term by the mother of Sisera, who let out a yevava when her son didn’t come back from war. The Gemara itself has the question-does the word Teruah refer to a Shebarim (a group of 3 blasts) or what we call Teruah (a group of 9 short blasts). Rashi says that a Teruah is like the cry of a person who is mourning, that they are short blasts. Tosofot relates a Teruah to the groans of a person who is in pain, longer blasts (what we call Shebarim). The  question presents itself: what is the difference between these two cries? Do they have different ideas? And if they do, how can they be done together (the one shebarim-teruah group)-wouldn't that be a contradiction? But before we can understand this machloket we have to understand the relationship between crying and Rosh HaShanah. Why does this central mitzvah have, as its primary theme, the idea of crying?

The day of Rosh HaShanah is focused around three ideas. Malchiyot (kingship), Zichronot (rememberance) and Shofarot, Malchiyot being the most central of the three. The most important idea on Rosh HaShanah is realizing that god is the king (Teshuva is not one of the central ideas). We can see that Malchiyot relates to the essence of Rosh HaShanah in that it is included in the Mussaf in the blessing, which speaks about the uniqueness of the day "kedushat hayom". The idea of Malchiyot relates to a king, who has power and control over his subjects. God has control not only in the sense of power but in existence also. God's power stems not from the fact that we accept him as ruler but from the fact that his existence is separate from this universe and underlies all of reality. This contrasts with a human king in which his power is conditional-it depends on the acceptance of the people, for if they rebel he is no longer king. The focus of Rosh HaShanah is to realize that god is the source of all existence and that our existence is totally dependant on the existence of god. That is one of the essential ideas of the torah. Once a person has this realization, he must abandon the security he finds in material things such as wealth or health. As people it is in our nature to find security in the material world around us, mainly because we are physical beings. At times when we lose our sense of security we are brought to tears. Whether it is the passing of a loved one or some overwhelming sickness, these things may lead to a break in our false sense of security and consequently lead to crying. We can now see the connection between Rosh HaShanah and crying. Crying comes from a loss and when a person truly loses his sense of security it should bring him to cry. On Rosh HaShanah we should seek to break the false sense of security we find in the material world around us and search for a security that stems from the existence of God. The best way to do this is to learn about the nature of ones soul.

Now back to the machloket. These two ideas of blasts in the Gemara are constructed after two different types of cries. The Teruah, Rashi’s idea of a cry, is a series of short blasts, the cries of someone in mourning who is reliving the experience of his loss. The realization that we are human and do not live-forever causes a loss in security, which could lead a person to cry. The Shebarim, Tosofot’s cries are longer blasts, like the groans of someone who is in pain, someone who is currently experiencing a loss. When a person becomes sick they also lose their sense of security. We all like to think that we are invulnerable but getting sick can shatter this sense security and once again lead a person to cry.  But how do these two ideas pertain to Rosh HaShanah?

In a classical Machloket the ideas are usually opposing ideas that come to teach us different lessons. But in this Machloket they both contribute to our understanding of Rosh HaShanah. Consequently we use both types of blasts, the Shebarim (longer) and the Teruah (shorter). These two cries relate to two ideas of teshuva. The first cry, that of a sick person is the cry of someone who is giving up their fantasy. It is during this time that a person feels the loss and lets out these long cries. After Shebarim we have the Teruah which are the short cries. These are the cries of a person who is crying after the loss has occurred. These are the cries of a person who looks back and cries for the loss of his fantasy. The objective of the Shofar is to help us remove ourselves from the false securities we blanket ourselves with and adopt a new sense of security. A security which stems from the existence of God.

Now that we understand this machloket we can discuss the nature of Zichronot. The rabbis used the term Zichronot (rememberance) instead of the word Din (judgment) for a very specific reason. In a judgment, the prosecutor and defense attorney reveal evidence to the judge to try and persuade him. But on this day we are not involved in revelations. Everything is revealed to God, even before we choose to do it. The term Zichronot gives implications to the idea that God posses all knowledge. It is a knowledge that stems from within him, a knowledge totally removed from our notion of knowledge.  Through this idea of Zichronot we are placing ourselves in the proper relationship with God. “When man possesses the correct notions of God, he thereby renders himself a being that embodies God’s desire. He partakes of God’s plan for mankind, and his life is therefore worthwhile before God. God may then remember him for life, and all good might then be decreed for him.”

Once a person realizes that God is the source of all existence he must realize that everything stems from God, Including God’s knowledge. Once we have these two ideas of God we are ready to start the process of Teshuva, where Shofarot comes into play. Shofarot is the process of giving up our fantasies which is the first step in teshuva.

© Kol Israel Congregation