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By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein | Series: | Level:

Prayers Without Words1

When you come into war in your land against an oppressor who oppresses you, you shall sound teru’os with trumpets, and you shall be remembered before Hashem your G-d, and you shall be saved from your enemies. On a day of your happiness, and on your festivals and on your New Moons, you shall sound teki’os on the trumpets over your olos and over your shelamim…[2]

Tekiah is a noun, except when it turns into a verb, which it easily can do. Nouns often have a corresponding verb form. The verb that should be used for “sounding a tekiah” is תקעתם.

Teruah is also a noun. It, too, has a verb form: הרעותם. We would expect to see some agreement between the nouns and the verbs, likeתקעתם תקיעה and הרעותם תרועה. But that is not what we get! We do get some strange combinations, like ותקעתם תרועה [3]and תרועה יתקעו [4], which mismatch the nouns and the verbs.

Of course there is no mismatching in the Torah. The unexpected combination indicates that blending them together is deliberate. The Torah wants us to combine them. In fact, this is exactly what the Gemara[5] demands whenever the combination is specified in a pasuk. On those occasions, whenever a teruah is sounded, it is both introduced and followed by a tekiah. So why, then, does the Torah use different terms to describe what in the end turns out to be the same sequence? The answer lies in a pattern we can detect by looking at the three events in our parshah that call for the sounding of the chatzotzros trumpets.

The first of these events is the directing of Midbar traffic. What emerges from careful scrutiny of the verses is that a tekiah alone is a signal to gather and listen[6]. Furthermore, if the instruction to stop, assemble and listen involves the nation as a whole, through their delegated representatives, only one trumpet – a symbol of unity – is used[7]. If the message is intended for all the people individually, then two trumpets – signifying plurality – are used[8].

So far we have considered simply gathering the people for some urgent instruction. When the tekiah is followed by a teruah, however, the second sound instructs them to move rather than stand still[9]. In effect, it tells then to go about and make arrangements to break camp. A final tekiah directs them again to listen – this time, for instructions about reaching some final destination.

The difference between the messages is inherent in the nature of the sounds. Tekiah is unwavering, plain and continuous. Teruah is broken and discontinuous. The former can therefore connote coming together, while the latter connotes movement, or coming apart. (On Rosh Hashanah, our sounding of the shofar relates these same messages in precisely the same manner. Every teruah is both preceded and followed by a tekiah. Altogether, the first of the three sounds declares that we should stop and listen for the Word of the King. The teruah that follows tells us to move, to take up a different position in life, to get to a higher place. The final tekiah tells us to stop at our destination, to consolidate our gains and take up a new position with strength and confidence.)

Having established the basic pattern and principle of the trumpet sounds, the Torah specifies two more events that require their sounding: during wartime [10] and accompanying korbanos[11].

Most often, the Torah speaks of going out to war. Rarely does it use a different expression – כי תבאו – when you “come in” to war, as it does here. The implication is clear. War is sometimes waged against a distant enemy, beyond the borders. Such warfare usually involves advanced planning and strategy. Sometimes, however, war is thrust cruelly upon us. We “come in” to a war that we have no choice about, when we are attacked by an enemy – when the war is specifically בארצכם – in our land, against a true oppressor, who oppresses us.

Our immediate need at such a catastrophic time is salvation. We cry out to Hashem, Who is the only One Who can deliver us from our enemies. Sounding the trumpet is a national prayer without words. Interestingly, however, the pasuk does not reassure us by telling us that by crying out to Him we will be saved. Rather, it says that we will first “be remembered,” and then saved. If we need to be remembered, then clearly we had previously been “forgotten.” We recognize that we would not be faced with impending doom had not Hashem distanced Himself from us, removed His special Providence, and left us to the harsh realities of natural law. Most important to us, then, is that He should change His relationship to us. He should “remember,” or turn to us again in closeness. Once He does, the salvation that we so desperately seek can follow without delay or obstruction.

We see here a reflection of the first instance of trumpet blowing. There, the trumpet was blown to call attention to the camp of Bnei Yisrael, and to ready them for a move. Here, the opening tekiah (assuming, as halacha does, that the teruah of this pasuk is both preceded and followed by a tekiah) is a prayer to Hashem that He should remember us, or turn to us once again. The teruah asks Him to move against our enemy, to act dynamically on our behalf. The final tekiah parallels that of the wilderness march. There, it directed the people to listen again – this time for instructions about stopping at a destination. Here, it entreats Hashem that His “remembering” us, His return to relating to us openly and directly should become a fixed feature.

The final application of the trumpet sounds concerns offerings in the Mishkan. According to our mesorah[12] the chatzotzros accompanied korbanos every day, at the time of the offering of the tamid. The “day of your happiness” does not imply fireworks and a special occasion. When you consider this pasuk against the backdrop of the previous one that dealt with an enemy attack, you can readily understand that the Torah means to drive home the realization that there can be no greater cause of happiness than peace. Any day free of war is a happy day – and not because of the absence of hostilities. Rather, when we are not distracted by worry and anguish, we find happiness in the consciousness of the presence of G-d in every moment of our lives.

Ironically, the purpose of our trumpet-sounding is similar to that of the previous pasuk. The word korban derives from the word for closeness. We strive for closeness to Hashem, but realize that something needs to change. We ask Him to come to us, and at the same time to change something within us. As was the case before, a tekiah is sounded before and after a teruah. In the previous pasuk[13] , observes Ramban[14], the stress was on the teruah, and thus the verb והרעתם; here, we emphasize the tekiah, and thus the pasuk uses ותקעתם. Beset by an enemy already “in our land,” our eyes are upon the salvation of Hashem’s intervention. We realize, though, that the way to achieve it is through His drawing closer. Standing over our national offering, the priority is reversed. Our primary concern – the cause of our happiness and euphoria – is our sustained closeness to Him. In order to achieve it, however, we ask Him to change our inner lives, to wipe away our past conduct that would interfere with that closeness.

1. Based on the Hirsch Chumash, Bamidbar 10:3-10
2. Bamidbar 10:9-10
3. Bamidbar 10:5
4. Bamidbar 10:6
5. Rosh Hashanah 34A
6. Bamidbar 10:3, 4 and 7
7. Bamidbar 10:4
8. Bamidbar 10:8
9. Bamidbar 10:6
10. Bamidbar 10:9
11. Bamidbar 10:10
12. Sukkah 53B
13. Bamidbar 10:6, although his explanation varies considerably from that of Rav Hirsch