A few months ago I wrote an email shiur and I received a few responses. One of them asked why I always focus on the Mikdash. I responded to the specific question, and as I sat down to write this week’s shiur I decided to change my focus and talk about other aspects of the parsha. Despite my greatest efforts it seems to be that I have once again failed, my apologies.
Our parsha is a very moving one. As Rav Soloveichick has noted our parsha breaks down into two sections. The beginning of the parsha completes the preparations for the camp and the marching instructions. Everything is ready for the entrance to Eretz Yisrael. In the second half (from Perek 11) we find the downfall: the complaints of the people, the punishment and the subsequent sending of the spies in next week’s parsha.
The final instructions concerning the traveling of the camp are in the start of Perek 10. Moshe is commanded to make two silver trumpets in order to “call the nation and march the camps”. The Torah goes on to describe the different purposes the trumpets will serve and what the system of the various sounds indicates. If one is sounded the leaders of the tribes are to congregate, if both are sounded the entire nation is to gather. Both of these gatherings are rallied by the sound of a tekiah. If a truah is sounded the camps are to begin traveling.
In addition, the trumpets are to be used in the case of war “to be remembered by Hashem and to be saved from the enemy”. Finally they are to be used while bringing korbanot on all special occasions.
From reading the pesukim it would seem that there are various unrelated uses of the trumpets. On one hand they are simply a public announcement tool. (Due to the lack of SMS text messages, they needed some method of contacting everyone in the camp). On the other hand they seem to have a deep religious significance. They are used at the time of war not simply as a battle cry but in order to be “remembered before Hashem”, and of course their use in the bringing of korbanot as well seems to clearly highlight their religious nature.
This leaves us a little confused as to the understanding of the trumpets, are they holy or simply a functional tool?
The Rambam seems to see the primary function as the military one, which is “borrowed” and invested with religious significance. The Rambam in Hilchot Teshuva explains that the mitzvah of blowing shofar on Rosh Hashana is meant to alarm us, as does a siren, and wake us up to realize that we are in a crisis situation.
If we take a closer look at the pesukim I think another view may develop. A close reading of the pesukim (please see the Ramban, Seforno, Ibn Ezra) shows a peculiar omission. We read that if a truah is sounded the eastern camp should travel (pasuk 5).
If a second truah is sounded then the southern camp should travel (pasuk 6). The next two pesukim should be easily predictable, for each additional truah the next camp should set off on the trek. However the Torah stops at this point and reverts to describe the other purposes of the trumpets (war and korbanot). What happened to the other two camps?
The obvious answer (Ramban) is that there were indeed trumpet blasts sounded for all four camps, however the Torah did not write them all in, as we could get the idea on our own based on the first two camps. I say that this is the most obvious answer because it would seem superfluous to indicate each and every one. Having said that it is very difficult to justify such intuitive logic one week after having read 12 identical reports of the korbanot of the nisiim!
Other mefarshim note that Torah was very exact in its description, they blew the trumpets only for the first two camps. Why would this be the case? It is here that we return to the centrality of the Mikdash or in this case the Mishkan.
In truth the trumpets are meant to be in the Mishkan, there are no “outside” uses of the trumpets. When they are used to call a “general meeting” or a “managers meeting” it is not simply to announce some mundane issue that requires everyone’s attention. If we revisit the pessukim we find that they are to meet at the entrance of the Ohel Moed. Surely the purpose of such a venue has significance beyond a simple place to gather. In addition the trumpets are blown by the Kohanim. Had they been simply a siren or loudspeaker it is difficult to imagine why the Kohanim would need to be those in charge of them.
Even when it comes to the traveling instructions, the trumpets were not designed to be the “traffic signal” in the desert. They were not sounded for each and every camp, rather they were used to accompany the Mishkan. The first two camps had the parts of the mishkan interspersed between them (see pessukim 11-28), the last two camps did not. The trumpets were meant to signal the traveling of the Mishakan and the gathering at the Mishkan.
A central, if not the central theme of Bamidbar is the centrality of the Mishkan. The first parsha places all of the tribes around the mishkan, it is our focal point. Every aspect of the camp is defined by proximity to the Mishkan. Last week we read about those who are banned for one part of the camp or another due to being tamei. In this week’s parsha we are ready for our journey to Eretz Yisrael.
Am Yisrael cannot simply arrive in Eretz Yisrael. We need to be in formation, we need to be unified and complete. Each and every tribe must be present in order to present the true and complete picture of who we are. In addition to unity and completeness we must also have purpose and focus. It is the mishkan that provides both of these.
The entire report of the travel preparations is summed up in the famous pessukim (10:35-36) “Vayehi bnsoa haaron” “When the Aron travels….” It is not the camp that is traveling, and by the way they are bringing their portable Mihkan with them, it is the Mishkan that is traveling and therefore we travel with it.