By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman
Silent Interruption vs. Interruption of Extraneous Shofar-Sound
Each group of shofar blasts is comprised of three sets which are in turn comprised of three sounds: tekiah-shevarim-tekiah, tekiah-teruah-tekiah, and tekiah-shevarim/teruah-tekiah. Each set of three sounds is blown three times in succession for a total of nine sounds, and that is what constitutes a full group.
What if someone were to blow a tekiah, take a break for an hour, blow a shevarim (or teruah or shevarim/teruah), take another break for an hour, and then blow a tekiah? Does that count as a set? The Gemara discusses this question and cites the machlokes between Rabi Yochanan and Rabi Avahu. A person pauses in the middle of doing a mitzvah that has a duration to it – such as krias megillah on Purim, shmoneh esrei, and krias shema – and the pause was the length of time that it takes to do that entire mitzvah from start to finish. Rabi Yochanan holds that the pause does not invalidate the mitzvah; one has fulfilled the mitzvah despite the long pause. Whereas Rabi Avahu holds that such a long pause does invalidate the mitzvah. And blowing shofar, says the Gemara, is subject to the same machlokes. According to Rabi Yochanan, pausing – even for a long amount of time – in between the blasts does not invalidate the mitzvah. He is still yotzei. Whereas Rabi Avahu holds that it does in fact invalidate the mitzvah (and he will have to start over from the beginning). Following this discussion, the Gemara deals with another question: what if a sound that does not belong here was blown in the middle of the set? For example, the set that needs to be blown now is tekiah-teruah-tekiah, and (for whatever reason) a shevarim was blown either in between the first tekiah and the teruah or in between the teruah and the second tekiah. Does that invalidate the set? Is the out-of-place shevarim enough to ruin the set? The Gemara says, yes it is. And he’ll have to redo the set.
Now, here is a basic question: is the latter issue of an extraneous blast contingent on the machlokes between Rabi Yochanan and Rabi Avahu, or is it an independent problem? Rabbeinu Tam holds that it is contingent and the Ramban holds that it is not.
Rabbeinu Tam says that there is a basic point here of whether or not a hefsek (interruption) in the middle of a mitzvah disqualifies the mitzvah. Despite the fact that an interruption of silence is obviously different than an interruption of an extraneous blast, the basic point nevertheless stands: does an interruption in the middle of doing a mitzvah disqualify it or not? Therefore, avers Rabbeinu Tam, since we pasken like Rabi Yochanan when it comes to an interruption of a long pause (which is indeed how most Rishonim pasken) – that it does not invalidate the mitzvah – so too when it comes to an interruption of an extraneous blast. The line in the Gemara that states unequivocally that an extraneous blast disqualifies the set is only a continuation of expounding on the opinion of Rabi Avahu who holds that a long pause disqualifies the mitzvah. So the Gemara is telling us that Rabi Avahu only limits the disqualification to a long interruption (a length of time equivalent to how long it would take to do that entire mitzvah) when it is an interruption of silence, but when it comes to an interruption of an extraneous blast, even one is enough to disqualify the mitzvah despite the fact that it was a very short-lived interruption. But that is all according to Rabi Avahu who holds that interruptions can disqualify a mitzvah. According to Rabi Yochanan, though, interruptions do not disqualify the performance of a mitzvah, whether that interruption is a long, silent pause or a momentary, extraneous blast. This is how Rabbeinu Tam explains the Gemara.
The Ramban, though, holds that they are two separate issues. That the machlokes between Rabi Yochanan and Rabi Avahu is limited to an interruption of silence, but when it comes to an interruption of an extraneous blast, even Rabi Yochanan will agree that it disqualifies the set. Why? Because the extraneous blast is not simply an interruption, it inherently strips the set of its basic definition. A set of shofar blasts has a specific formula in order to be a valid set of shofar blasts. A tzuras ha’maaseh. The order of the blasts is not simply a matter of chronology; it is what defines the act as an act of shofar blowing. As such, an extraneous blast inserted in the middle is not simply an “interruption”, but a demolition of the defining characteristic of the very act of the mitzvah. Therefore, concludes the Ramban, even though we pasken like Rabi Yochanan that a long pause does not disqualify the set of shofar blasts (or any other mitzvah such as megillah and so on), an interruption of an extraneous blast will in fact disqualify the set because it ruined the defining characteristic of the shofar blowing. This is how the Ramban explains it in contrast to Rabbeinu Tam.
Extraneous Shofar-Sound vs. Extraneous Sounds in General
It stands to reason that, even according to the Ramban, it is only an extraneous shofar blast that will disqualify the set. In other words, a valid shofar-sound was blown with a kosher shofar in an appropriate manner, just that it was blown where it does not belong. Like a shevarim in the middle of a tekiah-teruah-tekiah set. But, if after blowing the tekiah the shofar blower picked up a trumpet and blew a trumpet sound (which happens to be an issur d’rabannan on Shabbos and Yomtov), and then picked up the shofar and completed the set with a teruah and a tekiah, the set is valid. Or even if he blew an extraneous sound with the shofar, but he did it in a way that inherently defines that sound as a non-valid shofar sound – for example, he blew through the wide end of the shofar instead of the small end, or he blew a sound which is just too short to be considered a shevarim – that too does not disqualify the set. Because it is only a valid shofar sound – out of place – that can invalidate the set. Even according to the Ramban.
Is it Inherent or is it the Act?
Rabi Akiva Eiger discusses a fascinating question which, in many places can be very practically applicable: is the disqualification of an extraneous sound (according to the Ramban) because of the act of blowing it, or does it inherently disqualify the set? What is the difference? Everyone listening! The shofar-blower is the one who did the act of blowing an extraneous sound, but all the listeners are completely passive. So perhaps the shofar blower has not fulfilled his mitzvah (if he does not repeat the set from the beginning), but everyone else has? Such a scenario, however, would require discussing whether or not it is possible for listeners to fulfill their mitzvah with a shofar-blowing with which the shofar-blower himself cannot fulfill the mitzvah. So let’s put that case aside. But here is a case that we can ask the question without getting into that thorny problem (of whether or not the shomeia can be yotzei even if the tokeia cannot), and it is a case that often has practical ramifications: two minyanim are within hearing range of one another. One is the neitz minyan, let’s say, and the other is the regular minyan. The regular minyan is up to the shofar-blowing that immediately precedes musaf and the neitz minyan is already holding by the end of davening. And right after the shofar-blower of the regular minyan blows his teruah, everyone hears a shevarim coming from the neitz minyan. They passively heard an extraneous blast in the middle of their tekiah-teruah-tekiah set, but they did not do an action of blowing an extraneous blast. So is their set disqualified or not? That is the question that Rabi Akiva Eiger addresses.
Superfluous Shofar-Sound versus Extraneous Shofar-Sound
There is a Tosefta that talks about a superfluous blast. For example, the current set is tekiah-teruah-tekiah, and instead of blowing one teruah, as he was supposed to, he blew two! So it came out tekiah-teruah-teruah-tekiah. The extra teruah is not out of place, per se. It is, after all, the sound which belongs here now. Just what? It is unnecessary. Superfluous. Does that disqualify? The Ramban brings down this Tosefta with a text that reads lo yatza, the superfluous teruah does in fact disqualify the set. However, other versions of this Tosefta read yatza, that he has fulfilled the mitzvah. If you take a look at the Biur HaGra on Shulchan Aruch where this halacha is discussed, what emerges from his words is that whether or not a superfluous shofar-blast disqualifies the set is contingent on the machlokes between Rabbeinu Tam and the Ramban.
According to Rabbeinu Tam – that the entire discussion of the Gemara is a global question of whether or not interruptions invalidate the mitzvah – in the case of a superfluous shofar-blast it for sure does not constitute an interruption that would disqualify the mitzvah, even according to Rabi Avahu who generally holds that interruptions do invalidate the mitzvah. For the simple reason that a superfluous sound does not constitute an interruption. There was no unacceptably-long pause and nothing extraneous got caught in the middle over here. So it’s not a hefsek. This is comparable to someone who repeats a pasuk in the middle of leining Megillas Esther. Not because he needed to correct a mispronounced word. For no reason at all, he repeated the pasuk. Would anyone suggest that – even according to Rabi Avahu – repeating a pasuk should constitute an interruption and disqualify the whole reading?! Obviously not. So it’s the same thing regarding a superfluous shofar-blast. It is simply not a hefsek.
According to the Ramban, though – that the issue of an extraneous shofar-blast discussed by the Gemara is not a global matter, but specific to the mitzvah of tekias shofar – a superfluous blast is just as much of an interruption as an extraneous blast. Because it ruined the sequence. In tekiah-teruah-tekiah, for example, the teruah must be immediately preceded and immediately followed by a tekiah. That’s the requisite structure in order for it to qualify as a valid set of shofar-blowing. So, if he blew an extra teruah, the first teruah is lacking the tekiah that must immediately follow it, and the second teruah is missing the tekiah that must immediately precede it. In short, blowing an extra teruah ruined the structure and the set is invalidated.
Interruptions Within One Set vs. Interruptions Between Sets of One Group
Thus far we’ve been discussing interruptions within one set of three blasts (eg: tekiah-teruah-tekiah). But what about an interruption between sets of one group?
As mentioned, the basic structure of shofar blowing is that we have three sets of three sounds (tekiah-teruah-tekiah, tekiah-shevarim-tekiah, and tekiah-shevarim/teruah-tekiah) and each one of those individual sets is repeated three times. So we have tekiah-teruah-tekiah, tekiah-teruah-tekiah, tekiah-teruah-tekiah constituting one group; tekiah-shevarim-tekiah, tekiah-shevarim-tekiah, tekiah-shevarim-tekiah constituting another group; and tekiah-shevarim/teruah-tekiah, tekiah-shevarim/teruah-tekiah, tekiah-shevarim/teruah-tekiah constituting a third group.
So the question we are asking now is what happens if, for example, the first set of tekiah-shevarim-tekiah was blown, and then a teruah was blown before moving onto the next set of tekiah-shevarim-tekiah? The Tur cites the opinion of Rabbeinu Yoel that doing so does invalidate the overall group (of the three sets of tekiah-shevarim-tekiah), and he needs to start over from the beginning. The other Rishonim, though, do not concur with this, and they hold that an extraneous shofar blast in between sets of one group does not disqualify the group. The Gra explains the machlokes as being contingent on the aforementioned machlokes between Rabbeinu Tam and the Ramban.
Essentially, Rabbeinu Yoel is going according to Rabbeinu Tam’s way of understanding the Gemara. Namely, that the issue of an extraneous sound interrupting a set is basically the same as that of a long pause. The basic question being: do interruptions disqualify mitzvos or not? According to Rabbeinu Tam, what the Gemara is essentially telling us regarding an extraneous sound interrupting a set is this: although Rabi Avahu (the one who holds interruptions do disqualify) said that only a long interruption (the amount of time it takes to perform the whole mitzvah from start to finish) disqualifies the mitzvah, that is only regarding an interruption of silence, but when it comes to an interruption of inserting an extraneous sound, that disqualifies the mitzvah despite its duration being very short.
What emerges, then, according to Rabbeinu Tam’s way of understanding the Gemara, is this: in whatever situation Rabi Avahu will hold that a long pause disqualifies the mitzvah, so too will the insertion of an extraneous shofar blast disqualify the mitzvah. And when it comes to a long pause in between sets of one group, that is explicit that Rabi Avahu holds it is indeed a disqualification. Because the group has to be a group, and a long pause strips it of this characterization. It follows, then, that inserting an extraneous sound will have the same effect. It interrupts between the sets of the group and disqualifies it from being characterized as a group.
That, explains the Gra, is why Rabbeinu Yoel says what he says. Rabbeinu Yoel is paskening according to the opinion of Rabi Avahu (that interruptions do disqualify), and in accordance with Rabbeinu Tam’s understanding thereof.
According the Ramban, though – continues the Gra – there is nothing to talk about. The discussion of an extraneous sound being inserted is only relevant when it is within one set (eg: tekiah-teruah-tekiah), because the three sounds of one set must be fused, if you will, into one structure of a shofar-blowing. One unit. It’s the order of the sounds which is the critical point, and that gets ruined if an extraneous sound is stuck in the middle. However, there does not need to be any inherent fusion between the three sets that comprise a full group. It is just that, in order to fulfill the mitzvah, each set must be repeated three times (corresponding to malchiyos, zichronos, and shofaros -ed. elab.-), and an extraneous sound in between those repetitions carries no bearing whatsoever.
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