For the week ending 20 September 2003 / 23 Elul 5763

Rosh Hashana

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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Virtual Forgiveness

From: E. T. in Denver

Dear Rabbi,

Is it permissible to ask for mechila (forgiveness) over an email network rather than in person? I know it's not preferable, but many of us work in large networked environments. We considered the option of sending it receipt-requested to a specific address rather than an all-points broadcast. Thanks!

Dear E. T.

There are two components in achieving forgiveness from someone we have wronged. One is the initiative of asking for forgiveness; the other is the granting of the forgiveness. Ideally, we try for both. While doing so in person is the best way to appease someone, it is not always possible. Asking for forgiveness in a written letter, over the phone or in cyber space is also acceptable particularly when the person responds. Nevertheless, even if a person doesnt confirm his forgiveness, in the pre-Kol Nidre confession a Jew says that he forgives anyone who wronged him, and prays that Heaven will inspire others to forgive him as well.

Foregoing Blowing

From: A. A.

Dear Rabbi,

Rosh Hashana will soon be with us, and this year we will not be blowing the shofar on the first day because it is Shabbat. I would like to understand more deeply why we have this custom. Is it because we don't use ritual objects on Shabbat? But we read from the Torah on Shabbat. Or is forbidden like other musical instruments, since if they break you might come to fix them?

Dear A. A.,

As you say, there's no prohibition against using ritual objects on Shabbat. We read the Torah on Shabbat. Nor is the shofar forbidden on Shabbat Rosh Hashana because of the prohibition against musical instruments. On Shabbat and holidays, musical instruments are forbidden, nevertheless blowing the shofar on a non-Shabbat Rosh Hashana holiday is permitted. Rather, the reason is as follows: everyone wants to fulfill his obligation to hear the shofar, but not everyone knows how to blow the shofar. Someone might bring his shofar to an expert to learn how, and thereby accidentally desecrate Shabbat by carrying the shofar in a prohibited domain. Therefore the Sages used their authority to suspend the mitzvah of shofar when it occurs on Shabbat.

I once heard a beautiful idea which can be learned from this Rabbinic decree, an idea especially appropriate for Rosh Hashana. The Sages of Israel forfeited their own mitzvah sacrificing their own spiritual elevation and that of the entire nation for the sake of some simple, perhaps unlearned Jew, living far from any major Jewish community. They cared about him, concerned that he too keep Shabbat properly. This highlights the inseparable connection shared by all Jews, teaching us to care about each other and unite as one people.


  • Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 588:5, Taz, Mishna Brurah 13
  • Ran, Rosh Hashana, Ch. 4.

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