The Midrash Rabba (Parashat Emor Chapter 29, Section 4) states regarding the verse, “Fortunate is the nation which knows the Shofar blasts”: “Rabbi Yoshiya said: Do the nations of the world not know how to blow? They have so many horns and so many trumpets! Rather, ‘The nation which knows the Shofar blasts,’ refers to the Jewish nation which knows how to appease their G-d with Shofar blasts. Hashem then arises from the Throne of Judgment and sits on the Throne of Mercy and becomes filled with compassion for the Jewish nation.” This is what is meant by the verse, “Fortunate is the nation which knows the Shofar blasts,” meaning the people who know the auspicious meaning and importance of the Shofar blasts and use them to return to Hashem.
The rabbi of Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l was Hagaon Harav Ezra Attia zt”l who was likewise the teacher of most of the greatest Sephardic luminaries of the previous generation. Rabbi Ezra Attia was such a prolific Torah genius, righteous, and pious individual that the greatest luminaries, including Maran zt”l, Hagaon Harav Ben Zion Abba Shaul zt”l, and Hagaon Harav Shalom Mizrahi zt”l, would belittle themselves before him. Just as an example, when Maran zt”l saw a halachic matter about which Harav Attia did not agree with him, Maran would immediately bury the halachic response he had written and he would not rule contrary to his great rabbi. Every year on the day of his Azkara (anniversary of death), Maran zt”l would hold a commemorative ceremony in his teacher’s honor and he would mention him as “Our leader and rabbi, Hagaon Harav Ezra Attia.”
Hagaon Harav Ezra Attia zt”l, late Rosh Yeshiva of Porat Yosef, recounts how Hagaon Harav Shlomo Laniado zt”l, author of the Responsa Bet Dino Shel Shlomo and Chief Rabbi of Aleppo, Syria, would serve as Chazzan on Rosh Hashanah since he was blessed with a pleasant and melodious voice in addition to serving as the Shofar blower. He would customarily do so every year. When the rabbi grew older though, he notified the respected community activists that came to visit his home on the Shabbat preceding Rosh Hashanah that due to the current state of his health, he would be unable to serve as Chazzan and Shofar blower during the coming Rosh Hashanah. The community activists replied by asking if the rabbi would request that his son, Hagaon Harav Efraim (author of Responsa Degel Machaneh Efraim), would serve as the Chazzan and Shofar blower instead. When his son, Harav Efraim, heard of this, he came before his father and told him that he agreed to fill his father’s place this year. His father gave him his blessing and so it came to be.
On Rosh Hashanah, Harav Efraim went to the synagogue and served as Chazzan but when he began to blow the Shofar, he erred slightly in the order of blasts, but immediately corrected himself as prescribed by Halacha. Upon arriving at the home of his father, Harav Shlomo, in order to visit him and kiss his hand as was customary, the leaders of the community were asked how the prayer services went to which they replied that the services conducted by Harav Efraim were truly amazing. When asked how the Shofar blowing went, they replied half-heartedly and the rabbi understood that it did not go so well. He immediately summoned his son, Harav Efraim, and inquired about this matter. His son replied, “While reciting the ‘Yehi Ratzon’ text prior to the Shofar blowing, I said, ‘Send [me] your holy angels who are appointed over the Shofar blasts.’ I immediately saw one of the fiery angels fly towards me and stand on my right side! I became frightened and this caused me to become confused.” His father then chuckled and told him, “You invited him and then you were afraid of him?!” About such an incident does the verse state, “Fortunate is the nation which knows the Shofar blasts!”
This story was likewise recounted by Hagaon Harav Avraham Raful zt”l, one of the elder Sages of Aleppo, who was invited periodically to speak before the students of Yeshivat Porat Yosef. Approximately sixty years ago, Harav Raful told over the above story to the students. One student got up and asked the venerable sage, “Why is the rabbi telling us this story? What connection is there between this unbelievable story and us?” Harav Raful replied, “So that you know that such things exist in this world! You need to know that this is possible!”
However, regarding us ordinary people, we should, at the very least, have in mind to repent, as the Midrash Tehillim states regarding the verse, “Blow the Shofar on the [new] month”: “Renew and better your deeds through the Shofar.” The Shofar represents the Shofar that was blown during the giving of the Torah, as the verse states, “And the sound of the Shofar became [progressively] much stronger.” Thus, one may not converse during the blowing of the Shofar, for regarding this time, the Midrash (Parashat Yitro, end of Chapter 29) states, “The entire world was silent; no horses neighed, no donkeys brayed, no birds chirped, no angles flew, no fiery angels recited ‘Kadosh,’ and the sound of the Shofar could be heard from one end of the world to the other.” Therefore, one should not speak or cough willingly; one should sit silently during the Shofar blowing and have in mind to fulfill the positive Torah commandment to hear the sound of the Shofar. Take these words with you and use them to return to Hashem while utilizing the sound of the Shofar for this purpose.