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What’s With the Trumpets?

The Torah briefly describes a pair of silver trumpets, and I thought I would explore what they mean through the text itself.

Have two silver trumpets made; make them of hammered work. They shall serve you to summon the community and to set the divisions in motion. …

… The trumpets shall be blown by Aaron’s sons, the priests; they shall be for you an institution for all time throughout the ages. When you are at war in your land against an aggressor who attacks you, you shall sound short blasts on the trumpets, that you may be remembered before your G-d and be delivered from your enemies. (Num. 10:9-10)

The text goes on to describe the various blasts and their purposes. But given that the trumpets are only mentioned here, and serve a functional purpose, is there any larger meaning within the Torah that speaks to us today? I think there is, and it is alluded to in the text.

How?

For starters, unlike a shofar, the trumpets are made of silver. Silver is first mentioned in the Torah with Abimelech, who almost sinned with Sarah:

And to Sarah [Abimelech] said, “I herewith give your brother a thousand pieces of silver; this will serve you a covering of the eyes before all who are with you, and you are cleared before everyone.” Abraham then prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech and his wife and his slave girls, so that they bore children.

Abimelech’s silver is a way to clear possible wrongdoing, and it is also the doorway to a miraculous delivery. Applied to the trumpets, the silver represents the same thing: a clean slate, and the request for blessings from G-d.

Similarly, the trumpets were made of hammered work. The only other things in the Torah made with hammers are all used in the tabernacle, all used for a close divine relationship: the cherubim, the menorah, the gold threads in the curtains, and plates for the altar. Which tells us that the trumpets are also supposed to make us think of a close relationship with G-d.

The most interesting aspect, however, is what the trumpets do. They make a sound, for all to hear.

The Torah has a word for “sound”, kol. But kol is not really about sounds per sé, or even about voices. Instead, it refers to presence. And the proof is found where kol is first mentioned.

Adam and Eve eat the fruit, and they cover themselves.

They heard the kol of G-d moving about in the garden in the breeze of the day; and the Human and his wife hid from G-d among the trees of the garden.

Kol here is not a voice, or a commandment. It is clearly distinct from a natural sound – because if they had heard a natural sound, a sound that would have been expected in a garden, then they would not have known that the sound was that of G-d’s presence.

Kol is found in the plague of thunder (kol) and hail in Egypt, as well as in the thunder (kol) heard at Sinai. That is the same word as in Eden; the sound fills us, and tells us of the divine presence. It is also used to describe the sound of the pomegranate bells on the garment the high priest wore when he went in and out of the tabernacle, announcing his presence.

And I think this brings the entire idea together for us: the trumpets remind us of the possibility of miracles (Abimelech), of a close divine relationship (the tabernacle), and the presence of G-d as per Eden. And we know that this mattered because all through the wilderness the Jews were accompanied by pillars of cloud and of fire so that we would always know that G-d was with us.

But when we left the wilderness, G-d’s presence was no longer so obvious to us. The trumpets were there as a replacement, as a symbol of His presence even when the supernatural miracles were no longer obvious for all to see. They were to be a comfort to the people that G-d is with us, even when we cannot see him. As has often been pointed out, Judaism is not visual: the G-d of the Jews has always been the G-d that we hear.

Which now makes this verse essentially self-explanatory:

And on your joyous occasions, and your fixed festivals and your new moon days—you shall sound the trumpets over your burnt offerings and your sacrifices of well-being. They shall be a reminder for you before your G-d: I, the LORD, am your G-d.

[an @iwe, @eliyahumasinter, @blessedblackmith and @susanquinn work!]

End Note:

Because I did the research, counting up every incidence of kol in the text, I thought I would share them. Note that with only the exception of the leaf (which is part of a curse), not a single use of kol refers to a sound found in nature. You may make of it as you will!

Eve Abel’s blood Lamech Sarai 2x Hagar Ishmael
G-d’s command/voice 33x Isaac 2 Rivka Jacob 2 Esau Rachel
Potiphar’s wife 3 Joseph 2 Moshe 4 Thunder/G-d’s thunder: 8 Yitro 2 Shofar
Messenger (Joshua? Moshe?) 2 Jewish People 13 Pomegranate bells Proclamation (stop giving) Public commandment Leaf’s sound
Wayward’s son’s parents 2 Levites Judah

Comments are welcome!

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