Parashat B'ha'alotekha

The Trumpet Blasts

The sound of the shofar can mobilize us, and help us consider the path ahead.

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This commentary is provided by special arrangement with the Jewish Outreach Institute, an organization dedicated to creating a more open and welcoming Judaism. To learn more, visit www.joi.org.

This portion teaches us two very important lessons. First, we learn the proper time to light the lamps on the lampstand of the tabernacle. This physical act is meant to light the Tabernacle and thereby bring God's divine light into the presence of the people. To emphasize the importance of the task, the lampstands are made of hammered gold (8:1-4).

Later in the portion are we taught when and how to blow the horns to summon the community, as well as the meaning behind each of the blasts. Again, to emphasize the importance of the task, the trumpets are made of precious metal--this time, hammered silver (10:1-8).

These two responsibilities are both given importance for they both speak to the survival of the Jewish people. The acknowledgment of God's presence has been instrumental to our survival. This is represented by the light. Likewise, our own strength and fortitude has also carried us forward. This is demonstrated by the various divisions set in motion by the blasts of the trumpets.

Perhaps it is our modern sensibilities that would view the juxtaposition of these two elements as peculiar. After all, the first is relevant to the ancient Temple cult, while the second is related to readying the Israelites for battle. But from the perspective of the Torah, both are critical for Jewish survival, and thus equally vital.trumpet

What is it that precipitates the sounding of the trumpets? The alarm is not a siren that signals impending danger. In the Torah, it is a signal to advance against the enemy. The sounding of the trumpets summons the attention of the people and calls them to join together and advance as one.

In ancient times, the Israelites gathered to advance against an enemy. Today, the trumpet calls us to advance down a much more spiritual path. In the present day, for example, during the high holidays, the sound of the shofar motivates the people to repentance.

Perhaps it is time to sound the shofar once again--but not because an enemy is on the horizon. Instead, we should use the resonant blasts of the trumpets to motivate the people to gather together to consider the path ahead.

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Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky

Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky is executive director of the Jewish Outreach Institute and the author of numerous books about Jewish spirituality.