Thursday, January 25, 2007

Shofar and Lulav

There are many commonalities between the commandments of shofar and lulav. This year we did not blow the shofar on the first day of Rosh Hashanah or shake the lulav on the first day of Sukkot. This was due to parallel rabbinic enactments to prevent illegal carry of shofars and lulavs on Shabbat. Furthermore, Rambam puts shofar together with sukkah/lulav in the same section of the Mishneh Torah. For Rambam to combine the two, when the other holidays receives their own sections, indicates that they have something important in common, even if it's not immediately clear what.

But the most interesting similarity may be the way each mitzvah is performed. Specifically, both mitzvot are performed twice in different manners. We first blow the shofar before mussaf. But in the middle of mussaf we blow it again, during the chazzan's repetition of mussaf. Lulav is extremely similar: first we shake the lulav right after the shacharit amidah, and then we shake it again in the middle of Hallel.

Both shofar and lulav can be explained by using R' Yosef Dov Soloveitchik's distinction between the "maaseh" (physical action) and "kiyum" (fulfillment) of a mitzvah. Many mitzvot contain both a physical action which must be performed, as well as an emotional or existential "purpose" to the mitzvah. For example, the commandment to pray includes both the requirement to recite a certain prayer text, as well as the requirement to form an emotional connection with and dependance on God. If you mumble your prayers half-heartedly, you have technically performed the "maaseh" and thus are not required to repeat the prayer, but you have certainly missed the point of prayer, the "kiyum". Many other mitzvot function in the same way.

For shofar and lulav, it seems clear that the two times you perform each mitzvah represent the "maaseh" and "kiyum" of the mitzvah respectively. First you make the blessing and listen to the shofar or shake the lulav the necessary number of times. This completes the "maaseh" - once you have done this there is technically no requirement to listen or shake again. The second performance is needed to accomplish the "kiyum", the "point" of the mitzvah.

What exactly is the "kiyum" of each of these mitzvot? For shofar the answer is clear. The "kiyum" of shofar occurs in Mussaf, when you read 30 verses relating to kingship, remembrance, and shofars. These verses are meant to induce an emotion appropriate to those themes of Rosh Hashanah. Perhaps the best example is the verse Shemot 19:16: "On the third day [at Mt. Sinai]... the shofar sound was very strong, and all the people trembled in the camp." When you read this verse during Mussaf, and hear the shofar shortly afterwards (remember, the mitzvah is hearing not blowing), you yourself should tremble while contemplating the formidableness of God, the authority of the Torah over us, and the special relevance of these themes on the day of judgment.

Similarly, shaking the lulav during Hallel is intended to induce an emotional experience related to Hallel. But what exactly is the theme of Hallel? Certainly the main thrust of Hallel, as expressed in its name, is to give thanks to God for His deliverance. But this is not the only theme. We also say "Ana hashem hoshia na" (118:25) - expressing the idea that we have not yet been delivered and are still in need of God's assistance. This second theme receives much less of the space of Hallel. In fact 118:25 is the only verse which seems to be a full-out request for future help. But it so happens that this verse is especially relevant to the shaking of the lulav.

There is a disagreement in the mishnah (Sukkah 3:8) over exactly when in Hallel to shake the lulav. According to Beit Hillel, we shake when we get to two points in Hallel. One is the verse "Hodu lashem ki tov ki leolam hasdo", and the other "Ana hashem hoshia na". Beit Shammai adds a third occasion: the words "Ana hashem hatzlicha na".

Of these three verses, the first clearly consists of thanks for past deliverance. But both "Ana hashem" lines seem to be prayers regarding the future, though with somewhat different emphasis. "Ana hashem hatzlicha na" is a request for success - hatzlacha. It is the most straightforward prayer for the future one can imagine. But "Ana hashem hoshia na" is more complicated. Its starting point is a situation of crisis, from which salvation is needed. It is not only a request, but also a statement of faith that God is the appropriate power to turn to in time of crisis, implicitly alluding to the God's past deliverances which are a model for what we expect now. And if "salvation" is taken in the teleological/messianic sense, then it is a request not just for a change in circumstance, but also for a resumption of our relationship with God. Thus, "Ana hashem hoshia na" contains aspects of recognition of the past, as well as of prayer for the future.

In the mishnah, Beit Hillel holds that one should shake the lulav at "Ana hashem hoshia na" but not at "Ana hashem hatzlicha na". Apparently Beit Hillel thinks the "kiyum" of lulav does not relate to requests for the future, but only to recognition of and thanks for the past. In contrast, Beit Shammai thinks the the "kiyum" relates to both the future and the past, and thus mandates shaking at "Ana hashem hatzlicha na" as well.

Similarly, the gemara brings a disagreement as to why we shake the lulav in the manner we do. "Rabbi Yochanan said: one extends and brings close [the lulav, in honor] of He who the four directions belong to, and raises and lowers [the lulav, in honor] of He who the sky and earth belong to. In the west they taught... Rabbi Yossi said: one extends and brings close to prevent harmful winds, and raises and lowers to prevent harmful dew." (Sukkah 37b)

Here two reasons are given for the custom for shaking in different directions: recognition of God's power, and protection from harmful natural forces. It is clear that this disagreement is very similar to the disagreement of Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai. Rabbi Yochanan, like Beit Hillel, sees the "kiyum" of lulav as relating only to the past, to thanking God for what God has already done. Meanwhile, according to Rabbi Yossi the "kiyum" relates less to the past than to prayer regarding the future.

It is always interesting to try and find support for your "chakiras" in the Biblical text (this is essentially what R' Shimoni Gerti has tried to do systematically). Unfortunately, our past/future chakira cannot be convincingly read into the verse "You shall take for yourselves on the first day 'hadar'-tree fruit and palm branches and boughs of thick trees and stream willows, and you shall rejoice before God seven days." But when we look at Sukkot as a whole the picture changes. It is clear from Tanach that the "new year" is not what we call Rosh Hashanah, but rather the entire period between Rosh Hashanah and Shemini Atzeret (see article by R' Yoel Bin Nun in "Berosh Hashanah Yikatevun", Michlelet Hertzog). Therefore Sukkot can be considered part of both the outgoing and incoming years. This may be hinted to in the mussaf offerings whose quantities are roughly double that of the other pilgrimage holidays. And from here it is logical to say that the lulav, as a central aspect of the holiday, relates both to the past year and to the year to come. Its "kiyum" can consist of giving thanks for the fruitfulness of the past year, and of prayer for rain in the year to come. Thus, the Biblical text seems to fit with Beit Shammai's more comprehensive approach in the mishnah, and to synthesize the two approaches brought in the gemara.

The question, then, is what about Beit Hillel's opinion that we only shake the lulav for verses which give thanks for the past? Our halacha is according to Beit Hillel, but Tanach seems to disagree. What gives?

It could be that even Beit Hillel recognized prayer for the future as an important part of the "kiyum" of lulav. However, unlike Beit Shammai, they did not think that this particular "kiyum" should be accomplished during Hallel. Since Hallel overwhelmingly relates to the past, for Beit Hillel the "kiyum" of lulav in Hallel would relate only to the past. The "kiyum" of prayer for the future would still occur, but at a different point - right after shemoneh esreh, which is indeed as logical a place for prayer as you can find. For Beit Hillel, then, the two shakings of the lulav are opportunities to perform the two "kiyums" separately. Unlike in Beit Shammai's view and unlike the mitzvah of shofar, there would be no shaking of the lulav intended solely for the technical performance of the "maaseh".

In summary: (shofar is included for comparison even though the column headers are inappropriate)
 After shemoneh esrehDuring hallel
Beit HillelMaaseh; Kiyum of prayerKiyum of thanks
Beit ShammaiMaasehKiyum (of thanks and of prayer)

There is room to speculate on the implications of Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai's views (are Beit Hillel metaphysical dualists? Are Beit Shammai monists? Is their machkolet the same as the machloket of Plato and Aristotle? etc. etc. - not to mention less presumptuous and unlikely possibilities) but I'll leave this line of inquiry for some other time. In any case, hopefully this post will lead the reader to a better understanding of the commandments of shofar and lulav, and just as importantly to a more meaningful performance of them.

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