Monday, October 10, 2005

'To Confuse Satan"

In a sort of ironic way, this year's study of the Laws of Blowing the Shofar ended up having an oddly contemporary resonance. The Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 16a-16b) says that we blow the Shofar both sitting and standing (actually we always stand, but that's another discussion) in order to confuse Satan (כדי לערבב השטן). Why do that? In order to prevent him from prosecuting Israel before the Divine Tribunal on the Day of Judgement.

Now the best known explanation is provided by Tosafot (s.v. כדי, quoting the eleventh century work, the Arukh by R. Nathan of Rome). According to this, the extra Shofar blasts are meant to lure Satan into thinking that the Messiah is coming and the he's about to be put out of business (as Prosecutor and Angel of Death). This, concludes Tosafot, will prevent him from making his case against Israel. (The entire issue is discussed by B. M. Lewin in and appendix to Otzar HaGeonim on Rosh Hashanah.)

Anyway, this past Yom Tov I noticed Rashi's comment, which made me sit up with a start. Rashi (ad loc.) writes: כשישמע ישראל מחבבין את המצוות-מסתתמין דבריו. 'When he hears that Israel so love the mitzvot- his words are blocked.' No eschatology. No End of Days. Simply the power of sincere devotion to mitzvot, will stop Satan (whoever he is) in his tracks.

There is tremendous power and empowerment in modest, sincere observance of mitzvot. There are those whom it warms and alot of people whom it terrifies. It's almost Yom kippur, so suffice it to say that they know who they are. The important point, though, is that in order to have ths effect the observant community cannot, must not withdraw from the larger society. We specifically blow the second set of blasts on the Shofar so that they may be heard as widely as possible.

The most important lesson for the coming year, after the traumas of the last, is to go about our lives and our businesses, living Torah in the world. Is that a pitch for Modern Orthodoxy in Israel. Absolutely. More than that, it's a cry for keeping up the process of making Israel Jewish.

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