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B’ha’alot’cha 5765-2005

“The Message of the Trumpets”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

In this coming week’s parasha, parashat Beha’alotecha, the Torah (Numbers 9:15-23) describes the travel procedures of the Children of Israel in the wilderness. In verse 18, the Torah boldly enunciates the defining principle that governs the Israelites’ itinerary: “Ahl pee Hashem yis’oo B’nay Yisrael, v’ahl pee Hashem ya’chah’noo,” the Children of Israel would journey according to the word of G-d and would encamp according to the word of G-d.

While the Al-mighty did not directly speak to the people each time they were to travel, He did inform them by means of a cloud that hovered over the tabernacle that the people were to journey. When the cloud lifted, the Children of Israel set forth, and when it rested, so did the people.

The question remains, how was it possible for Moses and the elders to organize over 2 million people (recently released slaves to boot!), to travel in any semblance of order, and to successfully reestablish camp when they rested? After all, there was no internet, no telephones, not even a PA system. How did they communicate?

In chapter 10 of Numbers, the Torah relates that G-d provided Moses with a special method of communicating with the people, by commanding Moses to make two very important instruments–silver trumpets. The Torah states that the silver trumpets actually served multiple purposes. These functions were fulfilled by sounding various sounds on the trumpets. In order to summon the entire nation, both trumpets emitted a tekiah blast, signaling that all the people were to assemble at the Tabernacle. However, if a tekiah was sounded from a single trumpet, only the leaders of the tribes were to gather. When both trumpets sounded a teruah blast, the people would begin their journey. The three-tribe formation of Judah, Issacher and Zevulun would lead the way, followed by the other nine tribes, and the Tabernacle and the Levites in their midst.

The Torah, in Numbers 10:9, informs us that the trumpets were also used to arouse the people in times of danger, during war, epidemic and drought. They were sounded as well on joyous holidays, on the Shabbat and as part of the sacrificial service.

While most Jews are familiar with the other well-known Jewish musical instrument–the shofar–few Jews are familiar with the silver trumpets and their function. What then is the difference in purpose between the trumpet and the shofar? The shofar is sounded on Rosh Hashanah to urge the people to do teshuva, to remind the Jews of the binding of Isaac and of the ram that gave its life in lieu of Abraham’s son. The shofar is intended to make the Jewish people recall their mortality and arouse the people to do teshuva. Simply stated: The shofar is the instrument that is meant to arouse the Jews spiritually.

On the other hand, the trumpet is an instrument that is intended to arouse the Jews physically. The trumpet is to be used to remind the Jews that there is much to do, and that all Jews must perform their life’s missions with enthusiasm. It signals the people to respond to Moses’s call for a meeting, whether it be the congregation or just the elders–with enthusiasm. The trumpets announce that it is time for the Jews to begin their travels in the wilderness–with enthusiasm. Jews are to celebrate their holidays and Sabbaths, and bring their sacrifices–with enthusiasm. Jews are to march forth and declare war against their enemies–with enthusiasm and a sense of assurance that to do battle with those who wish to destroy Israel is morally justified. As the shofar addresses the issues of the people’s hearts, the trumpet is intended to inspire the people’s hands and feet to fulfill the will of G-d.

Despite some basic similarities, there are stark contrasts between the shofar and the trumpet. The shofar reminds the Jews of their mortality; it is, after all, the ram’s horn. The trumpet is a symbol of majesty, reflected by the fact that it is fashioned of beautiful silver, G-d’s gift of nature via the mineral world. The shofar is gentle and curved, while the trumpet is strong and erect. The color of the shofar is dull, while the sheen of the trumpet sparkles.

Both the shofar and the trumpet play key roles in Jewish life. After all, the Jewish people certainly need to perform their duties and devotions to G-d with a full heart, with enthusiasm and a sparkle, with a sense of joy and arousal. The author of the Sefer Ha’Chinuch (The classic work on the 613 commandments, their rationale and their regulations, by an anonymous author in thirteenth-century Spain) notes: “The Torah’s ordinance that the trumpets be sounded, has the effect of stirring and arousing a man’s emotion to the point where he does not stand idly by while something dramatic in his life is happening. Instead he is physically and spiritually involved and subjectively committed.”

What message do the trumpets convey to us today? It seems to me that contemporary Jews could use a hefty dose of the enthusiastic spirit of the trumpet in their Jewish lives. Our leaders need to be a little more enthusiastic about their role in mobilizing the people, and our people need to respond more enthusiastically to their call. The trumpets represent the sparkle of Jewish life that we all urgently need. In fact, it may very well be that it is the beauty of the silver trumpet that ignites the spark and creates the sheen that serves to enlighten us all and help the Jews effectively enlighten G-d’s world.

May you be blessed.