‘The Ultimate Weapon’ Parashat Beha’alotecha / Naso 5779

Sometimes I ask myself if there is such a thing as an “ultimate weapon” – a weapon that ensures victory to the army that uses it. Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) don’t fit the bill. During the Cold War, world peace was kept on the assumption of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) – that the response of a nation that was attacked with WMD would be equally destructive such that everybody would lose. I used to think that Precision Guided Munitions (PGM) were the ultimate weapon. A PGM gives its operators the capability to place large amounts of explosives wherever and whenever they are needed. A nation that knew that every single piece of its infrastructure and every single one of its symbols of political authority had been targeted and would be reduced to rubble between five and ten minutes after a war began would think twice about starting a war. The Second Lebanon War of 2006 rendered that theory null and void: after six weeks of dropping PGM’s on Lebanon at will, Israel could still not prevent Hezbollah rocket fire on her cities.

If only Israeli decision-makers had looked in the Torah, they would have discovered that there exists an ultimate weapon, a weapon that guarantees victory. It is a system called “Silver Trumpet”. G-d commands Moses to fashion two silver trumpets that essentially serve as a sort of intercom system. G-d gives Moses instructions how to blow the trumpets in order to accomplish the various tasks they would be used for[1]. And then G-d reveals to Moses that these trumpets have another use [Bemidbar 10:9]: “When you go to war in your land against an adversary that oppresses you, you shall blow the trumpets and be remembered before G-d and you will be saved from your enemies.” All they had to do was to blow the trumpets and victory was assured. Lest the sceptics in the audience suggest that the Torah is speaking allegorically, when the Jewish People go into battle against the Midianites, the Torah tells us [Bemidbar 31:6] “Moses sent [the soldiers into battle]… along with the sacred utensils and the [silver] trumpets”. Jewish soldiers would no sooner go to war without their trumpets than they would without their rifles.

How can the Torah promise unconditional victory? Only a few weeks ago we read that the results of battle are determined by our spiritual status: if we keep the Torah, we are promised that we will be victorious and if we do not, we are promised that we will be badly defeated – even if we blow the trumpets. Further, the trumpets did not always guarantee victory[2]. One of the first battles fought by Joshua in the conquest of the Land of Israel was against the city of Ai. Joshua’s army was summarily routed. While the rout was caused by the actions of one man – Achan, who had taken from the booty of Jericho against Joshua’s explicit orders – one would have expected “Silver Trumpet” to smooth things out. It is clear that the Torah is not guaranteeing military victory. What is it guaranteeing?

We begin our answer by turning to the Rambam. Writing in the Mishna Torah [Hilchot Taanit 1:1-2], the Rambam explains the custom of fasting in times of adversity: “It is a positive commandment from the Torah to cry out and to sound trumpets for all troubles that come upon the community… Every matter that troubles you like famine, plague, locusts, and so forth, cry out because of them and sound the trumpets. But if they do not cry out and sound trumpets, but rather say: ‘What has happened is the way of the world, is merely happenstance’. This is a cruel way, and it causes them to stick to their bad deeds. And the trouble will add other troubles.” We do not blow the trumpets to awaken G-d. We blow the trumpets to awaken ourselves. We blow the trumpets to try to get it through our thick skulls that we are not under attack because of a chain of geopolitical events. G-d promised us that if we keep His commandments, we will know no war. We are under attack because we have acted in a way that left G-d with no choice but to send His agents – the Midianites, the Amalekites, the Hezbollah – to punish us.

The Rambam is being consistent. He gives a similar reason for blowing the shofar on Rosh HaShanah [Hilchot Teshuva 3:4]: “The blowing of the shofar on Rosh HaShanah… is symbolic, as if saying: ‘You that sleep, stir yourselves from your sleep, and you slumbering, emerge from your slumber, examine your conduct, turn in repentance, and remember your Creator! They that forget the truth because of the vanities of the times, who err all of their years by pursuing vanity and idleness, which are of neither benefit nor of salvation, care for your souls, improve your ways and your tendencies, let each one of you abandon his evil path and his thought which is not pure!”

Let’s continue down the path blazed by the Rambam and try to understand how the Torah can give “Silver Trumpet” the status of the ultimate weapon. According to the Rambam, our own worst enemy is ourselves. The Torah describes our enemy as “ha’tzar ha’tzorer” – “an adversary that oppresses you”. Usually, the Torah calls an enemy by the word “oyev”. I suggest that the word “tzar” – “adversary” – in our case brings to mind another kind of enemy, our “yetzer” – “evil inclination”. This explanation can help us to understand why the Torah orders us to use “Silver Trumpet” when we go to war specifically “in our land”. No-one wants to go to war within his own borders. When the IDF fights, I want the signs on the road that the soldiers pass to be written in Arabic. An army wants to fight on the enemy’s soil. The battle that the Torah is describing here is an internal battle. It is a battle being waged in the heart and souls of each and every one of us. Our adversary – our inclination – tries to take control. It is so enticing to let him drive, to sit in the passenger seat and watch the scenery go by. When we blow the trumpets, we stir ourselves from our slumber. “Silver Trumpet” sounds the alarm: I am the captain of this body of mine. This slap in the face does something else: it brings G-d back into the equation. The Torah tells us that when we blow the trumpets, we will be “remembered  before G-d”. Not that G-d will remember us – He does not need any prompting to think of us. Rather, it is we who need to remember G-d. The end result of our remembering will be that we will be “saved from our enemy”. Here the Torah specifically uses the word “oyev” and not “tzar”. Here the Torah is referring to Hamas, Hezbollah, and Islamic Revolutionary Guard. If we blow the trumpets, if we wake ourselves from our spiritual slumber, if we [Vayikra 26:3] “follow My laws and faithfully observe My commandments”, then we will have placed ourselves in a position where we can merit G-d’s blessing [Vayikra 26:7]: “You shall chase your enemies and they shall fall before you by the sword”.

It is not enough to remember G-d when things are going south. As the adage goes, there are no atheists in foxholes. It is a far greater challenge to remember G-d when everything is going right. To counter this tendency, the Torah commands in the very next verse [Vayikra 10:10] “And on your joyous occasions – your festivals and new moon days – you shall sound the trumpets over your burnt offerings and your sacrifices of well-being. They shall be a reminder of you before your G-d: I am your G-d.” “Silver Trumpet” blasts us out of our self-imposed self-centred reverie so that we can see the true source of our blessing.

Today, “Silver Trumpet” is no longer operational[3]. What ultimate weapon do we have today to subjugate our “adversary”? The examples the Torah brings of “joyous occasions” are “festivals and new moon days”. Consider the “festival” we observe once a week: Shabbat. The next time you sit at your Shabbat table with your family, sing a few songs, drink some fine wine, and talk about the parsha with your children or grandchildren, pause for a second. Look up and thank G-d. Blow that trumpet loud and hard.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5779

Please daven for a Refu’a Shelema for Yechiel ben Shprintza and Tzvi ben Shoshana.

[1] One if by land, two if by sea.

[2] See the commentary of the Netziv of Volozhn [Ha’Amek Davar] ad loc. He asks a similar question but he takes it in a different direction.

[3] The silver trumpets migrated to the Beit HaMikdash. They have not been blown since the second Beit HaMikdash was destroyed and they will not be blown again until the third Beit HaMikdash is built.

About the Author
Ari Sacher is a Rocket Scientist, and has worked in the design and development of missiles for over twenty years. He has briefed hundreds of US Congressmen on Israeli Missile Defense, including two briefings on Capitol Hill at the invitation of House Majority Leader. He speaks regularly for the Israeli Foreign Ministry. Ari is a highly requested speaker at AIPAC events, 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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