Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center

Parashat Behaalotekha

Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies, Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center, and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet under the sponsorship of Bar-Ilan University's International Center for Jewish Identity.
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Parashat Behaalotekha 5761/June 9, 2001


Trumpets and Remembrance

Rabbi Judah Zoldan
Midrasha for Women


The silver trumpets mentioned in this week's reading were used to several ends. The purposes served by the trumpets fall into two categories:

A. short and long blasts, used to notify the people (Num. 10:1-7).
B. short and long blasts used for remembrance before the Lord (Num. 10: 9-10).

The description of these two groups is separated by verse 8. The first group has three possibilities: 1. long blasts on both trumpets, as a signal to assemble the community, the people, or the Sanhedrin; 2. a blast on one trumpet, as a signal to assemble the chieftains; 3. short blasts on both trumpets, as a signal to the camps to move (see Rashi on vv. 1-7).

The second group has two occasions to be marked by trumpeting: a long blast in times of trouble or war, or on a fast day; a short blast on joyous occasions, festivals and new moon days, done together with the sacrificial service in the Temple.

Additional occasions and circumstances when the trumpets were sounded can be found in Scripture: the procession bringing the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem (I Chron. 15:24, 28); the dedication of the altar (II Chron. 29:27); the dedication of the Temple (II Chron. 5:13; II Chron. 7:6); the foundation-laying of the Temple of the Lord (Ezra 3:10); the dedication of the Jerusalem city wall (Neh. 12:35); the inauguration of kings (II Kings 11:12-14; II Chron. 23:13).

Rabbi Meir Simhah ha-Cohen of Dvinsk explains in his Torah commentary, Meshekh Hokhmah, that the basis for sounding the trumpets on all these occasions comes from the same verse in this week's reading: "And on your joyous occasions ... you shall sound the trumpets" (Num. 10:10). The joyous occasions mentioned are the dates associated with building the Temple, laying its foundations and dedicating it.

Scripture says nothing about sounding the trumpets at Haqhel, the assembly of the people at the end of shemitta, the sabbatical year. The Tosefta (Sotah 7.8), however, says that in the Temple golden trumpets were sounded, and if the assembly of Haqhel fell on the Sabbath, it was postponed since one could not sound the trumpets on that day (Jerusalem Talmud, Megillah 1.5; Maimonides, Hagigah 3.7).

The Sages (see Rosh Ha-Shanah 26b, 27a) inferred from the verse, "With trumpets and the blast of the horn raise a shout before the Lord, the king" (Ps. 98:6), that in the Temple, before the Lord, trumpets were sounded along with the horn (shofar). Indeed, regarding Rosh ha-Shanah and public fast days the Mishnah (loc. sit.) says:

The shofar for the New Year was of a wild goat, straight, and its mouthpiece was overlaid with gold. And there were two trumpets at the sides. The shofar sounded a long note, but the trumpets a short one, for the duty of the day devolved on the shofar. On a fast day they were of rams' horns, curved, their mouthpieces overlaid with silver. And there were two trumpets between them. The shofar sounded a short note, but the trumpets prolonged, for the obligation of the day devolved upon the trumpets.

Does the verse in Psalms indicate that every time a blast is sounded in the Temple it is to be done with trumpets as well as a shofar? In all the events associated with building the Temple, most of which took place on the Temple Mount, was there a duty to blow the shofar as well? For example, at the assembly of Haqhel, which took place on the Temple Mount and at which trumpets were sounded, was the shofar blown as well? Likewise, on the Day of Atonement in the Jubilee year, when the shofar is supposed to be sounded (Lev. 25:9), does the announcement of the Jubilee in the Temple have to be accompanied with trumpet blasts as well?

If the answer to these questions is affirmative, why is this not explicitly stated as a general rule, instead of mentioning it only with regard to Rosh ha-Shanah and fast days? In the following paragraphs we will try to explicate the concepts of trumpeting in the Torah, thereby answering our question as well.

Short and Long Blasts

One must distinguish between short blasts (teruah) and long blasts (tekiah). Teruah is a tremulous sound, expressing an abnormal, stressful situation, whereas tekiah is a simple, straightforward sound, expressing a joyous and a positive feeling.
In the first group of verses (A) long blasts are distinguished from short blasts and the length or brevity constitute some of the meaning: long blasts signify convocation and unity. They are used to assemble the people, the Sanhedrin, and the chieftains. The Torah explicitly cautions that one is not to sound short blasts in order to gather the people, but only long blasts: "while to convoke the congregation you shall blow long blasts, not short ones" (Num. 19:7). Assembling the people and its leaders is always a positive act. In contrast, when dispersing, when setting off to journey through the wilderness, heading for a place of danger – then short blasts are sounded.

A similar distinction is made in the second group of verses – those mentioning days of note (B). In time of trouble and war short blasts are sounded: "you shall sound short blasts [vahare'otem=short blasts] on the trumpets" (v. 9); and on joyous occasions and festivals long blasts are sounded: "you shall sound [teka'tem=long blasts] the trumpets" (v. 10). This is in keeping with the differing character of the sounds.

From the verse in Psalms (98:6) it becomes clear that we are to sound trumpets and a shofar before the Lord when we are commanded to sound short blasts and not long ones: "With trumpets and the blast of the horn [shofar] raise a shout before the Lord, the king" (Ps. 98:6). Hence we can answer the question we posed above: On joyous occasions and festivals, as well as new moon days, when the Torah commands long blasts to be sounded to accompany the sacrificial service, and not short ones, then there is no need for an accompanying shofar, but only trumpets. The same applies for all the joyous occasions associated with the construction and dedication of the Temple, as well as with the assembly of Haqhel.

The continuation of the verse in Psalms, "before the Lord [lifne hashem], the king," not only teaches us that trumpets are to be sounded along with the shofar in that locale which is considered to be "before the Lord"-- the Temple – but also indicates that short blasts on the trumpets and shofar are sounded only when the purpose is to be remembered before the Lord. Thus there are two requirements for sounding trumpets along with the shofar: when we sound short blasts and when the purpose is to be remembered before the Lord.

These two conditions are satisfied together only in time of trouble and on Rosh ha-Shanah. With respect to the former, it is written: "When you are at war in your land against an aggressor who attacks you, you shall sound short blasts on the trumpets, that you may be remembered [venizkartem] before the Lord your G-d" (Num. 10:9). Likewise on Rosh ha-Shanah, short blasts are the principal commandment, as the name of the day, Yom Teru'ah, indicates (Num. 29:1). The purpose is to be remembered before the Lord, as it is written: "In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe complete rest, a sacred occasion commemorated with loud blasts" (Lev. 23:24) for which the Hebrew reads zikhron teruah.

On the Jubilee year we are commanded to sound short blasts, as it is written, "you shall have the horn sounded [teru'ah=in short blasts] throughout your land" (Lev. 25:9); but the Halakha does not state that whoever does so in the Temple must add trumpets to the horn in order to satisfy the verse in Psalms. This is because the purpose of the horn on the Jubilee year is to announce the liberation of slaves, and not to be remembered before the Lord. As Maimonides wrote in Sefer ha-Mitzvot (pos. command 137): "The long blast on Rosh ha-Shanah is for remembrance before the Lord, and this [on the Jubilee] is to release the slaves."

Verse 8, which separates the two groups of verses in the Torah passage on the trumpets, reads: "The trumpets shall be blown (yitke'u) by Aaron's sons, the priests." In other words, the priests are commanded only with regard to teki'ah, the long blasts, and not teru'ah, the short blasts. During the sacrificial service trumpets were blown by the priests (see Maimonides, Klei ha-Mikdash 3.5), but on Rosh ha-Shanah, which is called Yom Terua'ah, a day of short blasts, the responsibility did not devolve specifically on the priests; rather anyone may blow, even on the trumpets and horn in the Temple (Maimonides, Shofar 1.2). In time of trouble, outside the Temple, anyone was permitted to sound short blasts (teru'ah) (Maimonides, Ta'anit 1.1-4; 4.1-14), and in the Temple the priests would sound short blasts, since they also sounded long blasts there, and not only short blasts (Maimonides, loc. sit. 15-16).

Remembrance before the Lord

The division of the instructions on trumpeting in our parsha into two sections, blowing long blasts (tekiah) for summons and also for remembrance, explains Maimonides' remark in Sefer ha-Mitzvot (pos. com. 59, and following this, Sefer Ha-Hinukh, com. 384). Maimonides counts the command to sound long blasts on the trumpets during the festival sacrificial service and short blasts on the trumpets in time of trouble as a single commandment, despite the essential difference between these occasions: times of joy as opposed to times of sadness, long blasts being sounded on joyous occasions and short blasts on sad ones.[1]

Maimonides combined these various types of blasts since they have a common denominator: remembrance before the Lord. Regarding a time of trouble it is said, "that you may be remembered before the Lord your G-d" (v. 9), and regarding joyous occasions, "they shall be a reminder of you before your G-d" (v. 10). The use of the trumpets is different and the nature of the days is different; but they share the element of standing before the Lord, albeit with diametrically opposed significations. In times of trouble we wish to cause the Lord to remember us so that He will attend to us and deliver us. Therefore the verse says, "that you may be remembered" (v. 9)—we are the passive subjects of G-d's remembering. In contrast, on joyous occasions we are the ones who take action: "they shall be a reminder of you before your G-d" (v. 10). The sacrifices and the accompanying trumpeting signify our praise and thanksgiving to the Lord for bringing us to joyous occasions. Ibn Ezra added that one should even include under "joyous occasions" those days when Israel returns victorious from war in an enemy land, and thus holidays such as Purim and Hanukkah were established.

Thus remembrance, zikkaron, is two-fold: that we be remembered before the Lord, and that we ourselves remember His miracles and kindness to us.


[1] Maimonides' commentators were puzzled by this in the beginning of Hilkhot Ta'anit, and had no solution. The question has been addressed by Rabbi Judah Shaviv in his book, Batzir Aviezer, pp. 127-136. Further discussion can be found in Rabbi Soloveitchik's Divrei Hashkafah, pp. 49-58.