Parshas Beha’aloscha: Sounding the Trumpets to Wake Us Up
My father-in-law playing trumpet at our vort in Miami, FL
Rabbi Ben’s family is amazingly musically talented. Rabbi Ben sings, his mother plays the oboe, one brother plays the drums, a couple sisters play the piano, and his father… well, his father plays the trumpet. When I first encountered this last little fact, I thought it was really neat. It was cute how my (then future) father-in-law would whip out his pocket trumpet in the middle of a public park and start playing it for some children on a school trip or picnic.
The trumpet lost its charms, however, during our sheva brachot, when, having had sheva brachot in 3 different countries, I was exhausted and jet-lagged. We were staying in my in-laws’ home… where I was woken up at 7 AM by the sounds of the trumpet playing in the room above my head.
The truth is, this was about as close to the true purpose of the trumpet as it is possible to get these days. The trumpet is supposed to be a wake-up call for us, both literally and figuratively (or spiritually!). On the literal side, Moshe (Moses) was commanded to blow certain blasts on his trumpets to assemble the tribes and their leaders. A long blast on one trumpet, we learn from this week’s parsha, assembled the leaders of the tribes. A long blast on both trumpets called forth all the tribes. (And lest you think it is impossible to play two trumpets at the same time, let me tell you – my father-in-law certainly can!) So the trumpets Moshe played were a literal wake-up call to all the Jews to assemble at the Tent of Meeting.
They were also a literal wake-up call when it was time to move camp. Short blasts on the trumpets would signal the tribes to assemble in their formations and begin to move. Although only Moshe could play the two silver trumpets he was told to make in this parsha, the purpose of the trumpets was not short-lived at all. The Kohanim (priests) were told to maintain their use for waking up the Jewish people in perpetuity.
The trumpets were also important on a spiritual level. The Jewish people are instructed to play the trumpets when they are besieged by an enemy during a war. This is a spiritual wake-up call. The blast of the trumpets reminds us that we are in a war (or famine or drought or any difficult situation) for one reason only: We have sinned. Sins bring hardship upon us and we have to face the consequences. If we want to win our wars (whatever type they may be), we have to rouse ourselves from spiritual slumber.
My father-in-law playing trumpet at our wedding in Jerusalem, Israel
Why then are we told to blow the trumpets on days of celebration also? If it’s a day of celebration, we’re obviously not being punished for anything – we don’t need the same spiritual wake-up call that we need in times of war. So why the trumpet blasts? Because when things are good and we are celebrating, we are actually at our weakest. It is the time when we are most likely to forget Hashem. In our good fortune, we are most likely to say, “This is because I did something great!” We can fall prey to our egos – and to our yetzer hara (evil inclination). So Hashem reminds us that when things are going the very best possible, it is one of the most important times to sound our trumpets and wake ourselves up.
So here’s to my father-in-law, whose trumpet playing has (literally!) woken me up on various occasions! May he have many opportunities to continue using his trumpet to wake people up spiritually (although perhaps not literally). And may all of us find our own “trumpets” to use to wake ourselves up spiritually, through both the good times and the bad.
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