Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Trumpets of Praise and Prayer: Devar Torah for Beha'alotecha

This past Tuesday, the entire population of Israel participated in a "drill", simulating an attack on Israel. At 11am, sirens sounded throughout the country, and children in schools, people in offices – basically everyone – was supposed to find their protected space and get there. Did they do it? No idea. I was actually already working in our Mamad (I don't remember what the acronym stands for, but that's what you call it). But as the siren sounded and I continued to work I thought, "I don't remember ever having to do this in America." ("Duck and cover" was long before my time.)
The siren also reminded me of a different type of "sounding" mentioned in this week's parshah. (For those of you outside of Israel, this week we read Beha'alotecha, as Shabbat was not a day of Yom Tov. So even though you'll be reading Parshat Naso, in Israel we'll be a week ahead until you catch up in about a month.) I'm sharing a thought that Rav Gutel, Orot's President, mentioned at Orot's Yom Yerushalayim lunch and lecture this week.
One of the more famous "religious Zionist" verses in the Torah appears in this week's Torah reading. We read,
וְכִי-תָבֹאוּ מִלְחָמָה בְּאַרְצְכֶם, עַל-הַצַּר הַצֹּרֵר אֶתְכֶם--וַהֲרֵעֹתֶם, בַּחֲצֹצְרֹת; וְנִזְכַּרְתֶּם, לִפְנֵי ה' אֱלֹקֵיכֶם, וְנוֹשַׁעְתֶּם, מֵאֹיְבֵיכֶם. וּבְיוֹם שִׂמְחַתְכֶם וּבְמוֹעֲדֵיכֶם, וּבְרָאשֵׁי חָדְשֵׁיכֶם--וּתְקַעְתֶּם בַּחֲצֹצְרֹת עַל עֹלֹתֵיכֶם, וְעַל זִבְחֵי שַׁלְמֵיכֶם; וְהָיוּ לָכֶם לְזִכָּרוֹן לִפְנֵי אֱלֹקיכֶם, אֲנִי ה' אֱלֹקיכֶם.
And when you go to war in your land against the adversary that oppresses you, then you shall sound an alarm with the trumpets; and ye shall be remembered before the Hashem your God, and you shall be saved from your enemies. Also in the day of your gladness, and in your appointed seasons, and in your new moons, you shall blow with the trumpets over your burnt-offerings, and over the sacrifices of your peace-offerings; and they shall be to you for a memorial before your God: I am the Hashem your God.' (Bamidbar 10:9-10)
These verses have taken on such significance that the Israeli Chief Rabbinate instituted that we read the first as part of the davening on the evening of Yom Ha'atzmaut.
Looking at the two verses, you get the sense that these are two related but different commandments. The first relates to the blowing of the trumpets during times of distress and war. We blow the trumpets as a kind of prayer; a form of calling out to Hashem to save us in our time of need. The second verse alludes to a very different trumpeting. When we sound the trumpets on holidays and Rosh Chodesh, the soundings serve as a kind of praise for Hashem. Think of it (lehavdil) as a form of "Hail to the Chief" sounded in the Beit Hamikdash. The two verses describe the same activity, but serve decidedly different functions. Or so we think.
Many hundreds of years ago, someone asked the Ritva (Rabbi Yom Tov ben Aderet) why they didn't blow trumpets on fast days. After all, if the purpose of blowing the trumpets was to call out to Hashem in timed of need, the Middle Ages in France certainly qualified. He explained that the French custom not to blow trumpets was based on the understanding that the trumpets could only be blown in the Beit Hamikdash. The two verses are not separate mitzvot, unconnected and unrelated. Rather, they are inherently connected and constrained by the same set of rules. Rav Moshe Feinstein (see Igrot Moshe Orach Chayyim Volume 1: 169) uses this principle to explain why the Rambam, in his list of commandments, lists the blowing of the trumpets not as two commandments, but as one (positive mitzvot, number 59). Rav Moshe explains that Rambam too considered the trumpets of both travail and celebration to be one and the same mitzvah.
If so, then even when we blow the trumpets crying out to Hashem for salvation, we still do so as a form of praise (like the trumpets of joy). And when we blow the trumpets of Yom Tov in celebration, there's a measure of supplication and prayer as well.
To me, this makes sense on a deeper level as well. Even as we celebrate the holidays with korbanot and joy, don't we need to call out to Hashem for his continued support and guidance? Even when we recite Hallel, a prayer clearly focusing on praise of Hashem, we still cry out, אנא ה' הושיע נא – "please Hashem, help us!" And by the same token, as we turn to face our enemies who attack us from without and blow the trumpets to cry out to Hashem for help, should there not also be an element of thanks and praise as well? After all, we have the benefit of crying out from Yerushalayim, the seat of holiness for the entire world. We enjoy the spiritual solace of worshiping Hashem in the Beit Hamikdash. Even in our worries, we must also give thanks for the blessings that we still enjoy.
Praise and prayer, crying out and giving thanks – so often in life they make up two sides of the same coin.
Which brings me back to the siren in that Mamad. Sure, it's terrible that we have to sound the "trumpet" of attack, preparing the population for an enemy that stands at our borders, always searching for new and more devious ways to destroy us. But in that siren, is there not also a measure of praise as well? Sure, I never heard such a siren while living in America. But this year I have the merit to not simply read about it on JPost.com or in a Devar Torah. I heard these sirens from my home in Eretz Yisrael.
And for that I will continue to give Hashem my unending thanks.