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    The Mishna says
    [Rosh HaShanah
    27b] that someone
    who passes the back
    side of a shul or
    someone whose house
    is next to a shul and he hears the Shofar has
    fulfilled his obligation if he intends to
    fulfill themitzvahwhile listening to the
    sounds of the shofar. Lacking such
    intention, he has not fulfilled themitzvah.
    The Mishna concludes that two people can
    hear the identical sound and one will have
    fulfilled themitzvahwhile the other will not
    have fulfilled themitzvah. The reason is
    that the first one had ‘intent of heart’ and
    the second one did not have ‘intent of
    The Tolner Rebbe, shlit”a, wonders why
    the Mishna needs to cite two different
    cases – the case of the person passing by
    the shul and the case of the person whose
    house was next to the shul. Apparently the
    principle is exactly the same in each case
    and we could have clearly inferred one
    case from the other. In many contexts, the
    Gemara states, “The Tanna is not like a
    peddler who has to put out all of his wares.”
    Why, here, does the Mishna mention both
    The Tolner Rebbe asks a second question.
    The Gemara seeks to bring a proof from
    this Mishna that “mitzvos tzereechos
    kavanah” (commandments are only
    fulfilled when the person performing the
    commandment has in mind to fulfill the
    particularmitzvah). The Gemara refutes
    this proof by claiming that it is possible to
    argue that when the mitzvah speaks of
    “having intent” it does not mean having
    intent to fulfill the mitzvah (which would
    indicate thatmitzvos tzereechos kavanah).
    It merely means that the person has intent
    to hear the sounds! The Gemara does not
    seem to understand this answer and asks
    “What do you mean “have intention to
    hear the sounds”? – he did hear the sounds!
    The Gemara answers that he has to know
    that the sound he is hearing is that of a
    shofar (as opposed to thinking that he is
    listening to the sound of a donkey braying).
    This Gemara seems strange. The Tolner
    Rebbe asks – which Jew walks by a shul on
    Rosh Hashanna and hears the sounds of
    Tekiah Teruah Tekiah, etc. and thinks to
    himself “hmm – must be a donkey
    [I will admit that the answer he gives
    requires somewhat of a Chassidishe spirit

    somewhere deep in the recesses of the
    listener’s bones to fully appreciate. But the
    basic point he makes is a very beautiful
    and fundamental idea.]
    The Gemara [Rosh Hashannah 11a] tells
    us that Yosef left prison on Rosh Hashanah,
    based on the pesukim “Blow the shofar at
    the moon’s renewal, at the time appointed
    for our festive day… He appointed it as a
    testimony for Yosef when He went out
    over the land of Egypt…I removed his
    shoulder from the burden…” [Tehillim
    81:4-7] Now, why is that fact of interest to
    us? Is the Gemara merely telling us a
    historical fact that the day when Yosef left
    the dungeon happened to be on the First of
    The Tolner Rebbe says that Chazal make
    the point that Yosef came out of prison on
    Rosh Hashana to teach us something: A
    prison, in Biblical times, did not resemble,
    in any way, shape or form, today’s prisons.
    I am not talking about minimum security
    facilities set aside for white collar crimes.
    Even a maximum security prison today in
    Texas – where it is 120 degrees in the
    summer, and the prisoners are living in
    eight by ten cells without air conditioning
    – they are still living in the Taj Mahal
    compared to prisons in Biblical times. In
    Biblical times, they dug a hole in the
    ground, a dungeon, and they threw the
    prisoners in. There was no ventilation and
    there was no sanitation. It was literally
    living in a rat hole. For those old enough to
    remember this, think back to what the
    prisons looked like for the POWs (prisoners
    of war) during the Vietnam War. That was
    already in “civilized times.”
    So consider the following: Yosef is in this
    pit with minimum food, minimum water,
    no ventilation, and no sanitation. Who is he
    with? He is with the dregs of society. He is
    abused there because he is a Jew and
    because he is accused of assaulting
    Potiphar’s wife.
    And yet, something miraculous happens.
    They take him out of this pit. They put him
    in front of the most powerful man in the
    world and he is asked to give advice. Did
    they not know of the concept of PTS (Post
    Traumatic Stress syndrome)? It was
    miraculous that he was sane. And yet,
    Yosef came out, they gave him a haircut,
    they gave him new clothes, and they put
    him in front of Pharoah – the most powerful
    man in the world – in the presence of all his
    advisors. They told Yosef, “Let’s hear what
    you have to say about the matter?”

    Yosef came up with this brilliant
    plan and in a matter of days he went
    from being in the pit to being the
    second most powerful person in the
    world. Overnight! What does that tell
    us? It tells us that a person can go
    from being the lowest of the low and
    almost instantly he can reach the
    greatest heights. You can be in prison
    and then the next day you can
    literally rule the world.
    When Chazal say that Yosef left prison on
    Rosh Hashanah, the message they are
    trying to teach us is that people can feel
    imprisoned – they can feel imprisoned by
    their lusts, by their evil inclinations, by
    their troubles. Nebech, people have so
    many problems and it weighs them down.
    They feel literally like they are walking
    around with a ball and chain. However, the
    lesson of Yosef is that — in a flash — you
    can go from the greatest depths to the
    highest heights. A person can rid himself of
    his imprisoners and his tormentors and his
    captors and that can all happen in one fell
    This is what King Solomon alludes to in
    Koheles when he says “For from prison, he
    went out to rule…” [Koheles 4:14]. This is
    why it is so important for us to know that
    on Rosh Hashanah, Yosef left prison. It is
    because we too can all leave our “prisons”
    on this day of the New Year.
    With this preface, the Tolner Rebbe says,
    we can now answer our two original
    The first case of the Mishna is someone
    passing by outside a shul and he hears the
    shofar blowing. Fine. This is the case of a
    regular person. But the second case – “or
    his house is next door to the shul.” So, the
    question is – if his house is right next to the
    synagogue, why is he not coming to shul
    on Rosh Hashanah? What is he doing
    listening to the shofar from his house? The
    answer is that we are speaking about
    someone who has no interest in going to
    shul. This person is so far removed from
    Rosh Hashanah that when he hears the
    shofar blast, he thinks it might be a donkey
    braying. What kind of a Jew can think such
    a thing? The answer is we are speaking of
    a Jew who is that far away from proper
    behavior and thoughts on this holy day.
    Nevertheless, the Mishna is teaching us
    that “No!” If in one minute, he says “Hey!
    That is a shofar” then that recognition can
    lift him out of the dungeon. In that one
    minute, he can experience “from the trash

    heaps, He lifts up the destitute.” [Tehillim
    We may wonder “Who hears a shofar
    sound on Rosh Hashanah and thinks he is
    hearing a donkey?” However, do you know
    how many millions of Jews there are in the
    world like that? I once saw a statistic,
    perhaps my numbers are wrong – but there
    are 6,000 seats in Reform Temples on
    Long Island. Do you know how many tens
    of thousands of Jews live on Long Island?
    So where do all these Jews go to shul?
    There is nowhere near enough space in all
    the Reform Temples on Long Island to fit
    all the Jews who live there!
    Where do they go? They don’t go
    anywhere. They don’t even know it is Rosh
    Hashanah. There are many “traditional
    Jews” there who do “at least” buy their
    “traditional New Year’s dinner” – tsimmes
    with honey and raisin challah – and still
    not go to shul. However, beyond that, there
    are tens of thousands more Jews there who
    do not have any connection with their
    religion – not even to Challah and honey!
    They walk right past the Beis HaKnesses
    and do not walk in. They hear a shofar
    blowing from the Shul next door to them
    and they can only wonder – is there such a
    thing, is there not such a thing?
    The Mishna is teaching us that they can
    come out of their desperate situation. They
    can hear it and say “Hey! That is a Shofar.”
    It can make an impression on their hearts.
    Even we, fine upstanding Jews —
    observers of Torah andMitzvos, Bnei
    Torah, students who learn Daf Yomi, and
    who daven 3 times a day with a minyan
    — we too all have our “tormentors” and
    we all feel imprisoned to some extent by
    our evil inclinations and desires.
    Rosh Hashanah is the day that Yosef left
    prison and in a moment he went from
    being a prisoner to being a ruler. I wish
    everyone a healthy New Year. We should
    all have health,nachasfrom our children,
    we should have prosperity, and we should
    see the complete redemption, speedily in
    our days.