Moshe's Trumpets

This week's Dvar Torah is by Rabbi Yossi Slotnick.

Torah Mitzion Torani Tzioni Movement

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Torah Mitzion

In parshat Beha’alotcha God commands Moshe (Moses) to fashion trumpets: “Make yourself two trumpets of silver; you shall make them of a solid piece. And they shall be for you for calling the congregation, and for the journeying of the camps”. These trumpets play various roles, including assembling the people, instructing the camps to journey on, and they are used during prayer at times of trouble and on joyous occasions.

The Midrash provides an interesting insight into the historical boundaries of the use of the trumpets:

“Make YOURSELF trumpets:

You [singular] use them, since you are a king. No-one else uses them except for the generation of the king, as it is written: “The Leviim stood at their positions; the singers sang and the trumpeters sounded the trumpets”.

Rav said: The trumpets that were in the Temple were likewise hidden away, but King David would use a lyre, as it is written (Tehillim 57), “Awaken, my glory! Awaken, the harp and lyre! I shall awaken the dawn.”

Rav Pinhas ha-Kohen bar Hama said: A lyre was hung above David’s bed. At midnight, a northern wind would blow upon it and it would play on its own. Immediately David would arise, with all the disciples who studied Torah, and they would toil and keep themselves awake and expound on the Torah until the dawn.

Therefore David would say, “Awaken, my glory! Awaken, the harp and lyre! I shall awaken the dawn.” - Usually the dawn wakes people up, but I shall wake the dawn up; I shall awaken the dawn.”

(Bamidbar Rabba (Vilna), parsha 15, siman 16)

The midrash quotes two opinions as to who used the trumpets: Moshe and David, or only Moshe. This is most surprising, since Tanakh offers several accounts of people using the trumpets: at the time of the king’s coronation, at times of trouble, and in the Temple. Why, then, does the Midrash claim that the trumpets were hidden?

It seems that the Midrash is trying to portray “Moshe’s trumpets” as being on a different level. While trumpets have a musical role, and this role can be fulfilled by any trumpet, Moshe’s trumpets nevertheless had a unique quality that could not be duplicated in the creation of new trumpets. The text conveys this uniqueness in the formulation of God’s command, “Make yourself…”. Moshe fashions the trumpets that are suited to his leadership personality.

This personality participates and joins with community in many varied forms:

  • the regular leadership role of creating laws and conveying information when he assembles the people
  • serving as the liaison between G-d and the people. The trumpets express G-d’s will as to when the people must journey and when they must encamp. His will can be determined directly by looking at the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire, but even someone who cannot see will be able to hear Moshe’s trumpets conveying the message.
  • At times of crisis, in war
  • And in times of joy. In this context it is worth mentioning the beautiful teaching of the Meshekh Hokhma - that the festive days are all related to the inauguration of the Mishkan and the Temple. Moshe’s trumpets were suited to him - the leader who merited to inaugurate the Mishkan.

This integration of different roles is not simple: we are generally accustomed to drawing a very clear distinction between religious leadership and civic leadership, between joy and sorrow, between openness to G-d’s voice and the ability to hear the sound of war. The uniqueness of Moshe as leader - and of his trumpets - lay in the ability to integrate all of these.

The Midrash presents one other example of a leader who also combined all of these qualities: King David. He was a leader who was able to unify the whole nation under his leadership; he was a skilled general who fought many battles against Israel’s enemies until his kingdom was firmly established - and with all of this he would also dream of building the Temple, planning it down to the tiniest details.

The verse upon which this Midrash is based expresses this idea as follows:

“He set the Leviim in the House of God with cymbals, with harps and with lyres, according to the command of David and of Gad, the king’s seer, and Natan the prophet, for this was the command that God had handed over through His prophets.

And the Leviim stood with David’s instruments, and the kohanim with the trumpets.”

(Divrei ha-Yamim II 29:25-26)

The instruments that King Hizkiyahu uses are David’s, but the Leviim stand “according to the command of David and of Gad, the king’s seer, and Natan the prophet, for this was the command that G-d had handed over through His prophets”. David’s command is actually G-d’s command via His prophets. The text describes David as proceeding in close coordination with Gad, the seer, and Natan, the prophet, in planning the Temple. This, then, is a man who is capable of leading the nation, a commander in chief during times of war, sensitive to G-d’s voice, and a person who experiences the profound joy associated with the Temple. The first opinion in the Midrash perceives David as a duplicate of Moshe - and therefore worthy of using his trumpets.

Rav, who offers a different opinion, maintains that David’s special power lay not in the same combination and integration of roles that characterized Moshe, but rather in his dedication to Torah. David did not have the trumpets of the leader; he had the “lyre that awakened the dawn”. David was drawn in all the different directions, and the difference that the Midrash emphasizes between the lyre and the trumpets is who plays them. It is Moshe who sounds the trumpets; the lyre plays its music when the wind blows upon it. David is drawn after the wind, but he cannot initiate it himself. He hears the music, but is not able to play it himself. Therefore, to Rav’s view, there remains an unbridgeable chasm between David and Moshe.

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