By Shmuel Sackett, Zehut International Director
A main part of the Rosh Ha’Shana holiday, which just finished, was the blowing of the shofar. As you know, each day we heard 100 shofar blasts. Did you ever ask yourself where that number came from? Why 100? What is the source?
The answer lies in the masterpiece sefer, Aruch, written by Rabbi Natan ben Yechiel (1030-1106). Rabbi Natan was a big Rav in Italy and we are familiar with him today because of two main reasons: His sefer mentioned above, Aruch, and also for his number one student; Rabbenu Tam. In his sefer, Rabbi Natan writes the reason for 100 shofar blasts: “It corresponds to the 100 sobs that were sobbed by Sisera’s mother”.
To remind you, Sisera was the general of the army that persecuted the Nation of Israel. According to Judges, chapter 4; “The Children of Israel cried out to Hashem, for Sisera had 900 iron chariots and he oppressed the Children of Israel forcefully for 20 years”. Israel was judged at that time by the prophetess, Devorah, who – together with her general, Barak – went to war to fight Sisera and his army. The main battle was held by Mount Tabor and, baruch Hashem, the Nation of Israel emerged victorious; “…the entire camp of Sisera fell by the edge of the sword, not even one was left”. As is common with Jewish enemies, Sisera left his men to die on the battlefield as he high-tailed it out of there! “Sisera fled on his feet and came to the tent of Yael…” According to the commentaries, Sisera then slept with Yael – who sacrificed herself for Israel by giving him warm milk and allowing this terrible act to take place. Immediately afterwards, Sisera fell into a nice cozy sleep and Yael then drove the tent peg through his temple. When General Barak passed her tent, Yael came out and said; “Come and I will show you the man whom you seek. He came to her and behold – Sisera was dead with the peg in his temple”. This event was so incredible that Devorah wrote an amazing poem (Shoftim, chapter 5) which we say each year as the Haftorah for parshat Shelach.
OK, now that we remember that, how can it possibly be that we blast the shofar 100 times because of Sisera’s mother? Sisera was evil and, had he won the war against Devorah and Barak, he would have killed every Jewish man, woman and child. His mommy cried when he didn’t return from that battle? Boo-hoo… Who cares?? It was either him or us! And the great Rabbi Natan ben Yechiel writes that we blast the shofar 100 times because of this Jew-hater’s mother’s cries?? Something doesn’t make sense.
Thankfully, I found the answer to this very puzzling question. Every week, I receive an email d’var Torah from Rabbi Pinches Friedman and he explained exactly what was going on – in a very deep and meaningful way. Rabbi Friedman quoted the Chassidic master, Rav Tzaddok HaKohen (1823-1900) in his sefer Risisei Layla, as saying that Sisera’s mother wailed 100 times because somehow she knew that Yael became pregnant from her son’s rape and that eventually, many generations later, the great Rabbi Akiva would be born from this line. In other words, she wasn’t crying over her son’s death… she was crying - because on that very night - her son gave life!
If you think this is crazy, quickly get a copy of the Talmud and turn to 96b in Sanhedrin. It says right there that “the descendants of Sisera learned Torah in Jerusalem”. Rabbi Friedman brilliantly proves his point by bringing the Dikdukei Sofrim which says, “the descendants of Sisera learned Torah in Jerusalem, namely Rabbi Akiva!”
How Sisera’s mother knew this, I don’t know, but maybe – to increase her pain – Hashem gave her a little “ruach Ha’Kodesh” so she could get some “nachas” and see what happened to her wonderful son. Not only did he miserably lose the war against the Jews – with every soldier of his dying in battle – he ran away like a chicken, stopping only to rape a Jewish woman… the wrong Jewish woman (as far as he was concerned!) because she bravely drove a tent peg into his head! But the story doesn’t end there. This night did not result in the end of the Jewish nation, as Sisera had planned.It was actually the reason for the continuation of our nation with the birth of Rabbi Akiva (many years later). After the destruction of the second Temple and the fall of Bar Kochba, it was Rabbi Akiva who gave semicha to 5 students (the most famous of whom are Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and Rabbi Meir Ba’al Ha’ness) who continued the Torah, as we know it. Had there been no Rabbi Akiva, there – quite possibly – would not be a Torah world today. Believe it or not – all that started with Sisera… and his mother knew it!
Therefore, when she cried 100 times, it was like the cries of a mother giving birth because Am Yisrael didn’t end that night… we were – in some way – actually born that night! That was something Sisera’s mother couldn’t deal with, so she cried and cried and cried…
This wonderful explanation of Rabbi Friedman actually solved a major puzzle in my mind that I couldn’t figure out. What was the reason – and I mean the real reason – why the world cried over the passing of Shimon Peres? Did they really love him? 70 world leaders came to Israel to cry over the death of a 93 year old man who hadn’t been in the Knesset for almost 10 years? Yes, he was president of Israel after the Knesset but that is not a position of power, so why the mourning, the grief and the tremendous outpouring of support?
My friend, Ben Packer, the Director of Jerusalem’s Heritage House, said it best in an article he wrote last week: “The world loved Shimon Peres because they thought he was the best chance they had at getting rid of or weakening the Jewish presence in Israel. And they are truly sad because that hope just died.”
I agree with Ben and would like to expand on it a bit. Think of what I just wrote about Sisera’s mother and why she cried. She cried for the same reason why Obama, Clinton, Kerry and the other world leaders cried – not because of death – but because of “Am Yisrael Chai”!!! They cried because they thought that Shimon Peres’ dream of “A New Middle East” (the name of his book) would come to fruition but now they saw that “The Old Middle East” is alive and well. The Jewish nation is thriving, building, growing and connecting to authentic Torah values. All studies in Israel show that the youth are more connected to Jewish tradition than ever before and more Jews will fast this Yom Kippur than ever in history!
We are alive and we are here to stay. The old Zionist leadership – of which Peres was the last man standing – which dreamed of a Hebrew speaking Singapore is out of style. Yes, Lapid is now trying to take the place of those leaders but he will fail. Am Yisrael is stronger than ever and there is nothing that Sisera’s mother or 70 world leaders can do about it… except cry… as we blow the shofar.