“Concentration” Parashat Beha’alotecha 5775

Hashem commands Moshe to fashion two silver trumpets (hatzotzrot). These were dual-purpose trumpets. One purpose was to serve as a kind of Public Address system: the trumpets would be blown to summon the Princes or to initiate the travel sequence for the entire nation. There was another use [Bemidbar 10:9-10]: “If you come to war in your land against an adversary that oppresses you, you shall blow the trumpets and be remembered before Hashem, and you shall be saved from your enemies. On the days of your rejoicing, your festivals and your new-moon celebrations, you shall blow the trumpets for your olah-offerings and your peace-sacrifices, and it shall be a remembrance before Hashem”.

There is a crucial difference between the two uses of the trumpets. The first use was only relevant during the forty-year sojourn in the Sinai Desert. Once Am Yisrael crossed the Jordan River into the Land of Israel the trumpets could be stored in the attic[1]. The second use, on the other hand, remained relevant long after Am Yisrael crossed the Jordan River. The trumpets were blown on two occasions: in times of extreme adversity and in times of extreme joy. The Torah defines “extreme adversity” as imminent war. When the enemy is at the gates, we are commanded to blow the trumpets. “Extreme happiness” is defined as the service in the Beit Hamikdash.  The Mishnah in Tractate Sukkah [5:5] teaches that trumpets were blown twice each day during the offering of the daily Tamid sacrifice, and on festivals and New Moons during the offering of the Mussaf sacrifice. As sacrifices have not been offered since the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash nearly two thousand years ago, the only time the trumpets are blown today is in cases of imminent war.

Except that they’re not. Last summer three teenagers were kidnapped and murdered by the Hamas. Hostilities escalated into a full-blown shooting war that lasted for six weeks. During those six weeks Jews around the world met in synagogues to offer prayer, and many gatherings were held at the Kotel to pray for the welfare of the IDF soldiers. But nobody blew a trumpet. The question is “why not”? Rav Avraham Gombiner, writing in the Magen Avraham [OHC 576:1] asks precisely this question and he leaves it unanswered. Rav Yossef ben Meir Teomim, writing in the “Eshel Avraham[2], suggests that the mitzvah of blowing the trumpet in times of war is relevant only in the Land of Israel[3]. For Rav Teomim, who lived in Poland, this was a viable answer. For me, who lives in Moreshet, not so much.

I’d like to propose a solution, but first we require some background. In his “Sefer HaMitzvot” the Rambam enumerates all of the six-hundred and thirteen mitzvot in the Torah. In Positive Commandment #59 he writes “The commandment to blow the trumpets in the Mikdash during the offering of sacrifices, as the Torah commands us ‘On the days of your rejoicing…’ The laws are discussed [in the Mishnah] and command us to blow the trumpets during times of distress when we call out to Hashem, as the verse says ‘If you come to war…’” Notice that the Rambam has merged two mitzvot together: [1] blowing the trumpet in times of adversity and [2] blowing the trumpet in times of joy. Why does he not count each as a separate mitzvah? This question is also asked by Rav Teomim, and he bases his answer on a comment made by the Ba’al Sefer HaChinuch[4], who states in no uncertain terms that the rationale[5] of the commandment to blow the trumpets, both in times of happiness and in times of adversity, is based on kavana – concentration. A sacrifice requires great concentration. The slightest doubt as to whether the sacrifice was offered without the proper intent disqualifies the sacrifice. Similarly, when a person’s life is in danger he must concentrate on his prayers. He cannot afford to let his thoughts drift. The purpose of the trumpet is to aid him in his concentration. The blast of the trumpet can block all irrelevant thoughts from a person’s mind so that the only thing on his mind is the sacrifice he is offering or the battle he is about to fight. Rav Teomim suggests that blowing the trumpet in times of great joy and great adversity are counted as one mitzvah because in both cases the trumpet is blown for the same reason[6].

One last piece of background is still missing. The Torah commands us to blow the trumpets “on the days of your rejoicing”. We saw above that the Mishnah learns from these words that the trumpets are blown twice daily during the offering of the daily Tamid sacrifice. Is every day really a “day of rejoicing”? Wouldn’t it have fit in better with the text were we to blow the trumpets when offering a Todah (Thanksgiving) sacrifice, a sacrifice that is offered after Hashem has saved a person from near-death? Rav Samson Rafael Hirsch asserts that this is precisely the lesson that the Torah is teaching us. Each and every day has the potential to be a “day of rejoicing”. If we find out that we are being audited or if we have to run to the bomb shelter because somebody fired a rocket at us, then the day becomes a “day of adversity”. But even if the day was just another run-of-the-mill ordinary day, then it is still considered a “day of rejoicing”. The fact that most of us don’t see it this way is our problem. Rav Shimon ben Pazi writes in the Midrash[7] that the most important verse in the Torah – more important than “Love your neighbor as you love yourself” – is the verse referring to the daily Tamid sacrifice [Bemidbar 28:4] “You shall offer one lamb in the morning and the other lamb in the afternoon.” Each and every day we are given an opportunity to make the world a more Godly place, even through our most mundane actions. This, teaches Rav Hirsch, is cause for rejoicing.

With this background we are now ready to return to our original question: why do we not blow the trumpet today in times of distress? It has been said that there are no atheists in foxholes. In times of extreme danger, when the bullets are flying, many people experience a religious epiphany. Last summer, the kidnapping, the ensuing search, the rocket attacks and the incursion into Gaza had certain positive effects on the nation as a whole. There was a palpable decrease in the amount of infighting, the air was charged with spirituality, and there was an indescribable feeling of closeness – between man and his fellow man, and, yes, between man and G-d. By concentrating we could hear Hashem speaking, even though we may not have liked what He had to say.

That was last year. One year later Gaza is relatively quiet[8]. We’ve all returned to our shells and to our old routines. We are experiencing new levels of infighting, in politics, in our synagogues, and in our back yard. The pervasive feeling of closeness evaporated almost as quickly as it came. I don’t think anyone out there is interested in rejoicing. The reason we don’t blow the trumpets today in times of adversity is because we cannot blow the trumpet in times of adversity if we feel no need to blow it in times of joy. How damning it is that most of us today wouldn’t recognize a “time of joy” if it hit us over the head with a stick.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5775

Please daven for a Refu’a Shelema for Moshe Dov ben Malka

[1] This kind of mitzvah is called “tzorech sha’ah”. It has only short-term relevance.

[2] The “Eshel Avraham” along with the “Mishbetzot Zahav” make up the famous “Pri Megadim”.

[3] He bases this on the words of the verse “If you come to war in your land

[4] The Sefer HaChinuch is one of the oldest books to enumerate the six-hundred and thirteen mitzvot in the Torah. The author of the Sefer HaChinuch chose not to identify himself, saying only that he was a “Levite from Barcelona”. For this reason he is called simply “Ba’al Sefer HaChinuch”, literally “The Person who Wrote the Sefer HaChinuch [Whoever He Might Be].”

[5] The Sefer HaChinuch follows the same format for all of the mitzvot: It discusses the source of the mitzvah, its rationale, some of its particulars, and its relevance.

[6] Compare this, says Rav Teomim, with the blowing of the shofar on Rosh HaShanah and on Yovel (Jubilee) which the Rambam counts as two separate mitzvot. The shofar is blown on Rosh HaShanah to jar a person to repent, while it is blown on Yovel to “proclaim freedom throughout the land”. As these are two different reasons, the Rambam counts them as two different mitzvot.

[7] This Midrash is located in the preface to the Ein Yaakov.

[8] Make no mistake. The Hamas are hard at work preparing for the next war. So, for that matter, are the Hezbollah. And the Iranians. And ISIL…

About the Author
Ari Sacher is a Rocket Scientist, and has worked in the design and development of missiles for over twenty-five years. He has briefed hundreds of US Congressmen on Israeli Missile Defense, including three briefings on Capitol Hill at the invitation of House Majority Leader. Ari is a highly requested speaker, enabling even the layman to understand the "rocket science", and his speaking events are regularly sold-out. Ari has also been a scholar in residence in numerous synagogues in the USA and Canada. He is a riveting speaker, using his experience in the defense industry to explain the Torah in a way that is simultaneously enlightening and entertaining. Ari came on aliya from the USA in 1982. He studied at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, and then spent seven years studying at the Technion. Since 2001 he has published a weekly parasha shiur that is read around the world. Ari lives in Moreshet in the Western Galil along with his wife and eight children.
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