When blowing the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, there is a widespread custom to blow more notes that we actually need to. The gemara in Rosh Hashanah explains that the reason we do this is to “confuse the satan“. The gemara goes further, to explain that any year which does not commence with these shofar blows will not be a good year.
Now, there is another halachah pertaining to Rosh Hashanah, which is as follows: whenever the chag falls on a Shabbos, the shofar is not blown. This was an institution of chazal, as they were concerned that the baal tokeah (the individual appointed by the community to blow the shofar) would take it to a local chacham in order to learn how to blow. In doing so, he might inadvertently come to carry from a rishus yahachid to a rishus harabim, and so transgress a Torah commandment against carrying on Shabbos.
This presents a difficulty: as we saw above, where a the commencement of the year is not marked by the shofar blows, it will not be a fortuitous year. But where Rosh Hashanah falls on Shabbos, chazal step in and tell us not to blow. It seems that their concern about this remote possibility of a Shabbos transgression trumps the mazel of klal yisroel for the next year.
Tosafos picks up on this difficulty straight away, and points out that the gemara’s warning about having a bad year where the shofar is not blown, does not apply on Shabbos. Why not? The mefarshim explain that the sheer power of klal yisroel listening to chazal, and respecting their instructions, is enough to confuse the satan, and it is this that will give us a good year ahead.
(As an aside, Tosafos does not stop there. Although the warning does not apply on Shabbos, he points out that it will apply in another case of oness (chance situations). This means that, where the baal tokeah falls ill, or loses his shofar, and there is no replacement, then tough luck – the satan will not be confused, and the community may be subject to a rocky year ahead. This answer of Tosafos is difficult to understand, and several answers are offered, but they are beyond the scope of this article. To give you a taster, one answer brings the following analogy: if someone accidentally drinks poison, but does not have the antidote, they may die – this may be seen to be unfair, but it is simply a case of ‘natural’ cause and effect. Such is the case of oness.)
Getting back to the point then, we see the following themes emerge:
- Chazal’s concern, and willingness to go to great lengths, to stop even the most remote chance of a Shabbos transgression. So too, as we go about our daily lives at work, we must set ourselves boundaries, sometimes even beyond those mandated by the Torah. We must gauge our own work environment, with all its threats and opportunities, and decide where to draw our own line: which works events to attend, and which to avoid. Where compromise is a necessity, and where compromise must be avoided at all costs.
- The power and effect that we, as Jews, can have, simply by being mekayim the words of our teachers. As we have spoken about previously, we have an amazing and unique opportunity at work to be a “light unto the nations”. When questioned about the upcoming holidays by our colleagues, we should not shy away or make light of the upcoming chagim. Rather, we should demonstrate our conviction in the power of these days. A colleague of mine recently relayed to me the amazing responses he had when requesting forgiveness from his colleagues. We should not be afraid to do the same.
Under the spotlight: Too much attention
The same gemara on Rosh Hashana continues with an interesting and cryptic topic. It explains that there are three things which bring our sins to Hashem’s attention. These are:
- A shaky wall. It seems that taking unnecessary risks can cause Hashem to focus more intently on our spiritual sins. Whenever we are put in a situation of sakanah (danger), we must merit a certain level of zechus in order to make it out unscathed.
- Iyun tefillin (intensity in prayer). This seems counterintuitive: how can ‘too much prayer’ be a bad thing? The mefarshim explain that this refers to someone who davens for their requests, and then expects Hashem to answer him in return. Whilst we do of course hope that Hashem will answer our prayers, we should not have an attitude of entitlement, that just because we davened we now deserve to be answered.
- Calling for Divine judgment on one’s fellow man. This point is easier to understand: one who causes another to be judged deserves the same fate. And the flipside is also true: one who has mercy on their friend, will deserve mercy in return. In fact, this is precisely how we can ask Hashem to exercise his middos of rachamim and din simultaneously: if we act towards others with rachamim, then Hashem is actually exercising din when he responds to us measure-for-measure.
In all three cases, we can see that being overconfident of Hashem’s protection actually works against us. As with everything in life, the best approach is in moderation.
With many of us about to cash in half our annual leave days for the month of Elul, and dedicate this time instead to the service of Hashem, we should bear this point in mind. We all want to be noticed at work, for delivering the project on time, in budget, and with an innovative solution. But we must pick our opportunities carefully, and never lose sight of the wood from the trees.
When you have a five minute window with your boss once a year, you don’t waste this time negotiating the details of your contract. There is only one pertinent question: will I be employed again next year? And this is precisely the question we will ask of Hashem this Rosh Hashanah.
Wishing you all a ksiva v’chasima tova, and a happy year ahead!
 Some parts of this article are based on a shiur given by Rabbi Sulzbacher on 16 September 2017.
 Analogy heard from Rabbi Akiva Tatz.