The Mitzvah to Blow the Trumpets in the Temple and Times of Trouble

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by R. Gidon Rothstein

Parshat Be-Ha’alotekha

Rambam’s Obligation 59 interests me because it has been rendered almost invisible by a rabbinic practice, to establish fast days in times of trouble. He opens Hilkhot Ta’aniyot with our mitzvah, the obligation to blow silver trumpets as part of calling out to God in the face of distress [Rambam there full-throatedly insists we should see such distress as a message from God, Hilkhot Ta’aniyot 1;1-3, not our topic here.]

Holidays and Troubles

The mitzvah applies in areas I would not have thought connected, to blow chatzotzerot, trumpets, along with the offering of all holiday sacrifices, as Bamidbar 10;10 says, “on your joyous days and your festivals…over your burnt offerings (olot) and sacrifices of well-being (zivchei shalmeikhem).” We are also commanded to blow them in times of need and trouble, as part of calling out to God, Bamidbar 10;9, “if war comes to your land with an oppressor who oppresses you [the translations I found; I would have thought ha-tzar ha-tzorer means causes you troubles].”

I slipped in there a fact to question, Rambam’s putting the sacrifice-blowing first, when the verse first addressed war and other crises. Possibly, Rambam would have said the Torah only did that because it had been discussing what chatzotzerot did in the desert. Once the Mikdash would be built, the chatzotzerot would more regularly be used in the Temple service, so Rambam emphasized that. [If that’s right, it would be another time Rambam thought a mitzvah changed over time, similar to what we saw in Bamidbar.]

There’s more to consider. Hagahot Maimoniyot to Laws of Fasts says Semag counted a mitzvah only to accompany communal sacrifices. Even that view needs to explain why it is only holiday sacrifices.

Arukh HaShulchan offers answers to most of the questions.

Trumpets Outside the Mikdash?

In Orach Chayim 562; 2-3, Arukh HaShulchan mostly quotes the passages in Mishneh Torah I referenced above. He points out Rambam thought sounding chatzotzerot and shofarot jointly happened only in the Mikdash, but seemed to have thought we would blow chatzotzerot anywhere we were in trouble.

The explanation for our practice comes in Siman 577, where Arukh HaShulchan tells us a responsum from the time of the Geonim said to blow shofar on fast days, as sources in both Talmuds suggest, but chatzotzerot were only for the Mikdash. Although Rosh HaShana 26b does speak of chatzotzerot outside, this view limits it to war, not any other distress. Rashba held either option was viable.

We Don’t Blow Trumpets Today Because…?

Nothing in what we have said so far answers a question Magen Avraham raised, quoted by Arukh HaShulchan in 577;3, why we don’t do this today, when blowing—perhaps only shofar—seems to be a mitzvah from the Torah, but we do observe fast days, a rabbinic extension of that mitzvah.

A first part of the answer depends on a different debate, where in the service we would sound these trumpets. Rashi and the Tur (OC 5789) held it would be in the six added blessings of the service on fast days (laid out in Ta’anit 16b, in the context of fasting for rain, but part of the prayers on all distress-fasts). Rambam, however, thought that was only true in the Mikdash; elsewhere, they would blow after services.

Arukh HaShulchan suggests our practice follows Rashi and Tur, and since we do not currently have formal fast days (where we add six blessings to the Amida), there is no place to blow. Of course, he knows blessings were instituted by Chazal, where the Torah set up the obligation to blow trumpets; however, once Chazal attached the trumpets to the service, he argues, they prohibited sounding them anywhere else. When that service is not in practice, neither are the chatzotzerot.

[While there is nothing wrong in his answer, he asserts without evidence an example of Chazal wielding their power to have us refrain from a mitzvah.]

In the next paragraph, 577;4, he offers what seems to me a stronger answer, although still without an explicit source. He has already quoted Yerushalmi’s view the chatzotzerot themselves were heard only in the Temple (no fewer than two, no more than 120, he says in 577;15); for this view, the verse about using instruments in response to troubles (even with a shofar, he means) is required only when the Temple is standing. For further support, the next verse is about the trumpets accompanying sacrifices, clearly only applicable to a standing Temple.

[Assuming he is correct—and I have no better idea or source—it suggests a significant difference in our experience of Providence when we do and do not have a Temple. With a Mikdash, the Torah tells us the response to trouble is turning to Hashem with our chatzotzerot, either only in the Mikdash (Yerushalmi) or everywhere. Without a MikdashArukh HaShulchan seems to be saying we lose that option, must cast about for the right path of calling out to God.]

Chatzotzerot and Sacrifices

Given his sense of the chatzotzerot’s dependence on a Temple, let’s turn to Arukh HaShulchan HeAtidHilkhot Klei HaMikdashLaws of the Vessels of the Temple, 20;10. He highlights the verse’s mention of days of joy and holidays, its saying we should blow over our burnt and peace offerings, the reason we limit it to holidays and Rosh Chodesh, because only those days have fixed fixed burnt and peace offerings (and only for communal sacrifices, since individuals’ are not fixed, either).

In par. 18, Arukh HaShulchan wonders why Rambam leaves out Shabbat, when Sifra includes it. Because the Torah uses the verb for teru’a regarding the chatzotzerot of war, and of teki’a for the sacrifices, Arukh HaShulchan, par. 16 thinks it was only teki’ot, was a part of the sacrificial service such that only kohanim eligible to offer a sacrifice could blow the chatzotzerot.

Other Situations for the Chatzotzerot

Arukh HaShulchan points out, in a few places, the chatzotzerot were blown on other occasions, too, although for those it would be the teki’a-teru’a-teki’a rhythm we know from Rosh HaShana. In Klei HaMikdash 20;17, he mentions accompaniment of daily sacrifices, in 27;10 he lays out the blasts sounded on Friday afternoons to let the nation know Shabbat was approaching.

The chatzotzerot would also gather the people for the Hakhel ceremony on the Sukkot after shemitta, all of these an halakha le-Moshe mi-Sinai, a tradition Moshe brought from Sinai, according to Arukh HaShulchan [that’s more of a mouthful than we might immediately realize, actually, because earlier sources usually identify such halakhot, where he seems to be assuming this one, without citing a source.]

More, Sefer HaChinukh 384 defines the mitzvah as being to accompany daily sacrifices, explicitly dismisses the sense of the verse that the mitzvah is only for holidays and New Moons. He groups all blowings of the chatzotzerot/shofar—to open and close the gates of the Mikdash each day, for example—under this mitzvah.

He does notice Rambam disagreed, but is confident Rambam meant only that on special days it had to be kohanim who blew, where other days could be Levi’im. He also labels the mitzvah as including blowing in times of distress, but relegates that to a single reference to Ta’anit, where the reader can find more.

Three Models of the Mitzvah

Rambam, Sefer HaChinukh, and Arukh HaShulchan have presented the mitzvah with subtle differences I do think affect the overall picture. Rambam sees two parts to it, the Temple part, seemingly restricted to fixed sacrifices of holidays and New Moons, and the times of distress part. Although it seems separate (and is dealt with in a different area of Mishneh Torah), Rambam does count them as one mitzvah, does put the Temple part first, despite that forcing him to reverse the order of the verses.

Although Arukh HaShuchan worked with Rambam’s definition, he thought Shabbat part of our mitzvah, and the many other times we utilize chatzotzerot and/or shofar were done differently, to make clear they were not part of this, were a function of an oral tradition.

He also strengthened the connection between times of distress and holidays, certain the former also only occurred with a standing Temple.

Sefer HaChinukh was the most Temple-focused in his presentation of the mitzvah, taking any blowings in the Temple to be expressions of this mitzvah, having it almost totally overshadow the ones done in response to crisis.

Each view, I think, affects our understanding of how these blasts express our relationship with God. Are they vehicles of joy and/or careful attention in conducting the Temple service, by the way also turned to calling out to God when distress comes our way, or are they ways we call out to God, more often in joy but equally importantly in distress, although perhaps only when the relationship between the Jewish people and God is healthy enough that we have a Mikdash?

Points to ponder, to prepare for when we one day again—speedily, in our days, as the saying goes– have a Mikdash.

About Gidon Rothstein

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