As one makes their way through the halakhot pertaining to the days and weeks leading up to this moment, a curious creature raises his ugly head time and again. He is one that we, living in the Modern world as we do, don’t often give much credence to and - if we do - we might well dismiss him as a Christian concept foreign to our beliefs as observant Jews. And yet there he is time and again in the rituals that have led up to this moment and there he will be as we proceed with our davening in just a few moments.
I refer, of course, to the entity known as Satan.
Last Shabbat we did not say kiddush ha-chodesh, the brachah announcing the new month, in order to confuse the Satan, lest he realize that the month of Tishrei is almost upon us. Yesterday we did not blow the shofar after davening in the hopes that the Satan may think the Day of Judgement has already passed. In just a few moments we will blow the shofar. The gemara clearly states that the kolot that we blow during Chazarat HaShatz are sufficient to fulfill our obligation to blow the shofar. So why do we blow an additional 30 kolot, known as the tekiyot meyushav, prior to Shemoneh Esreh? The Gemara tells us that it’s intended to confuse the Satan.
In fact, prior to blowing those first 30 blasts, we will recite 7 pesukim found on page 495 in your Machzor. The first one starts “min ha-metzer karati kah.” The first letters of the next six form an acrostic that reads: kera Satan. May the Satan be torn. When I begin Musaf with the Tefilah of Hineni, I will call out to Hashem and ask “vi-tigar bi-satan li-val yastineinu” - banish the Satan so that he does not oppose us.
So who is this creature that seems so ubiquitous at this time of year and how are we to understand our repeated attempts to vanquish him?
One things seems clear. Although Satan literally means adversary or accuser, and the Greek translation of adversary or accuser is diabolos and from there the word Devil entered our English lexicon, the Satan in our Mesorah seems to be a far cry from the ghastly Lucifer of Dante’s Inferno or the angel fallen from grace in Milton’s Paradise Lost. Our Satan makes three appearances in Tanach; two very minor cameo appearances and one relatively starring role. It therefore behooves us to look at the latter in order to understand who our Satan is and what his function might be. And here I refer, of courses, to Sefer Iyov.
In the beginning of the sefer, the role of the Satan is made quite clear. He is, what Chazal will later call, a kateigor - a prosecutor. He makes an argument before God that Iyov is not all that he is cracked up to be. God, you think Iyov is righteous and pious? Well that’s just because you’ve bestowed all sorts of blessings on him. It’s easy to be good, when life is good. Try taking something away and see if he is still as loyal and dedicated as he seems right now. That is the primary role of our Satan. He represents the often accurate argument before God that we’re not all that we make ourselves out to be. That beneath the surface, beyond the facade, we’re flawed and imperfect. He is not a Devilish trickster or tempter. He exposes the truth. A truth we might rather suppress and ignore.
And yet, when we look at the halakhot pertaining to this time of year, we can’t help but note this legendary litigator seems, well, rather unimpressive, to say the least. In fact, one might argue that he comes off as the most dim-witted of all celestial beings. Consider the fact that he doesn’t seem to able to consult a calendar. Without the gabbai klopping on the bimah, he has no idea that Tishrei follows Elul - just like it has every year since creation. By not blowing the Shofar on erev Rosh Hashanah poor Satan is led to believe he missed Rosh Hashanah completely. And in just a few moments, silly Satan will be so thrown off his game by an extra set of shofar blasts that he won’t be able to get in the way of our performance of the mitzvah. There isn’t a firm in this city who’d hire him.
What exactly are we to make of this caricature painted for us by Chazal? How are we to understand these practices which call for the “confusing of the Satan”?
Many Rishonim and Acharonim have offered explanations - both literal and metaphorical - for this difficult concept of “li-arbev et ha-satan” - to confuse the Satan. I want to share with you today the explanation of one of my teachers, Rabbi Yehuda Amital, ztz”l, and expand upon it for just a moment.
Rav Amital said that when it comes to the tekiyot we are about to blast, the confusion of the Satan comes from our silence. That is, unlike the tekiyot that we will blow during the repetition of Shemoneh Esreh which are prefaced by petitions to God to hear our teffilot and bestow mercy upon us, in the first set of tekiyot we say nothing. It’s interesting to note, that all three practices that “confuse the Satan” are related to silence - we don’t say kiddush ha-chodesh, we don’t blow the shofar on Erev Rosh Hashanah, and we don’t say anything teffilot during the first set of tekiyot.
So, silence, seems to throw the Satan off his game. Why is that?
Let’s go back to the role of the Satan. The Satan’s primary role is to argue that we’re not all we’re cracked up to be. There is no more powerful response to that argument than silence. A silence that says “you’re right.” Here I am, with all my warts and all of my flaws.
Elsewhere, Rav Amital notes that the entire purpose of the Shofar is to reach deep into the inner sanctuaries of our soul and lay them bare for God. No words, no arguments, no petitions, just me. As I am. Here I am. Or in the words of Avraham Avinu that will be repeated over and again in tomorrow’s Torah reading, and will be repeated in slightly different form as we begin Musaf: Hineni. Here I am. Nothing is a devastating to the Satan than a preemptive strike in which we make no claims about our own righteousness, and instead remain silent. He wants a fight, and we offer him none. Our silence says hineni. This is who I am.
One of the more recently added exhibits at Beit HaTefutzot in Tel Aviv is a video tribute to the life of Leonard Cohen. Cohen, of course, was the legendary Canadian Singer-Songwriter and inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And while his accomplishments in the secular world were most impressive, Cohen’s relationship with his Judaism was far more tenuous.
And so, when I walked into the booth in Beit HaTefutzot a few months ago, I expected to learn something about his career, hear a few bars of Haleluyah, and move on. Yet, what I experienced was something very different. The focus of the video presentation was not the 1984 “secular hymn” that shot Cohen to stardom and is considered by Rolling Stone Magazine to be one the 500 best songs ever written. Instead, it was the title song of his very last album, called “You Want It Darker.” The album was released by Columbia Records on October 21st 2016. 19 days later, Cohen died in his sleep.
There in the dark booth you hear Cohen’s even darker voice reciting a tortured poem about his relationship with God. One in which he vacillates between blaming God for human suffering and accepting humanity’s role in carrying it out. The haunting lyrics contain a reprise with the words "magnified, sanctified be Your holy name." A line which those in the know immediately recognize as the opening of Kaddish: יתגדל ויתקדש שמה רבא. And in the opening and close of this song intended for a secular audience you hear the unmistakable voices of the choir and chazan of Congregation Shaar Hashamayim in Montreal, the shul in which Cohen grew up.
At the core of this - his final gift to the world - stand a few lines in which Cohen puts his cards on the table and says, talking to God:
If you are the dealer, let me out of the game
If you are the healer, I'm broken and lame
If thine is the glory, mine must be the shame
You want it darker
I'm ready, my lord
As we head into tekiyat shofar, let us put our cards down as well. Let’s allow the shofar to penetrate deep into the recesses of our hearts and present ourselves as we are before HKB”H. And, in the merit of our sincerity - of our unadulterated honesty - may the Satan be silenced and may we be zocheh to a year of health and happiness for all.