Parshat Beha’alotecha: The Mitzvah of Sounding the Trumpets

“Make for yourself two silver trumpets. You should make them of hammered metal. And they will be yours for summoning the assembly and to cause the camps to journey.” (BeMidbar 10:2)

In our pasuk, Hashem commands Moshe to create trumpets. This passage and the following pesukim outline four functions assigned to these trumpets. First, the trumpets would be used to announce that the camp of Bnai Yisrael must begin a new stage of its journey. Second, the trumpets would to be used to assemble the people or the leadership. Third, the trumpets were to be sounded when the Festival sacrifices or the sacrifices for the Rosh Chodesh – the new month – would be offered in the Mishcan. Fourth, the trumpets were to be sounded at a time of affliction.

Of course, the first function mentioned in these passages no longer applies. We are not traveling through the wilderness. However, the other three functions continued to apply after the people entered the Land of Israel. Maimonides explains that when Bnai Yisrael is confronted with a threat or affliction, we are required to call out to Hashem and to sound these trumpets.[1] Maimonides tells us the trumpets are to be sounded in the Bait HaMikdash during the offering of the Festival and Rosh Chodesh sacrifices.[2] He also explains that the trumpets are to be sounded to assemble the people to listen to the King read from the Torah on second day of Succot of the year following the Sabbatical Year.[3]

However, there is an interesting problem in Maimonides’ treatment of these trumpets. In his Sefer HaMitzvot, Maimonides explains that we are commanded to sound the trumpets when offering the Festival and Rosh Chodesh sacrifices. He adds – seemingly as a postscript – that these trumpets are also sounded when we are confronted with a danger or an affliction.[4] It seems clear from this formulation that not all functions of the trumpets are equally central to the mitzvah. The primary function of the trumpets is to be sounded when offering the Festival and Rosh Chodesh sacrifices. The sounding of the trumpets at a time of affliction is treated as a secondary function. In this description of the mitzvah, Maimonides does not mention the sounding of the trumpets to assemble the people.

In his code of law – the Mishne Torah – Maimonides places the mitzvah of sounding the trumpets in the opening law in the laws of fasts. He explains that it is a positive commandment to cry out to Hashem and to sound the trumpets whenever an affliction confronts the people. In this treatment of the mitzvah Maimonides does not even make mention of the other functions of the trumpets – their sounding when offering the Festival and Rosh Chodesh sacrifices and their sounding to assemble the people.[5] In short, in Sefer HaMitzvot, Maimonides seems to assert that the primary function of the trumpets is the requirement to sound them with the offering of the Festival and Rosh Chodesh sacrifices. But in Mishne Torah, he treats the sounding of the trumpets at a time of affliction as the primary element of the mitzvah.

Actually, this is one of numerous instances in which Maimonides treatment of mitzvah in Sefer HaMitzvot differs from his treatment of the same mitzvah in his Mishne Torah. In order to understand Maimonides’ two different treatments of this mitzvah it is helpful to consider another example of a similar seeming inconsistency. In his Mishne Torah, Maimonides introduces his laws of repentance by explaining that when a person violates a mitzvah one is required to repent and confess the sin. He explains that this confession is a positive commandment.[6] In this characterization of the mitzvah of confession – veyduy – Maimonides describes it as the essence or as an essential component of the process of repentance. In his Sefer HaMitzvot, Maimonides offers a similar definition of the mitzvah of veyduy. However, he includes this mitzvah among the commandments relating to sacrifices.[7] In other words, in his Mishne Torah Maimonides presents the mitzvah of veyduy as the fundamental mitzvah discussed in the laws of repentance. In his Sefer HaMitzvot, he presents it as one of the many mitzvot related to sacrifices.

Maimonides adds an interesting and important comment to his discussion of the mitzvah of veyduy in his Sefer HaMitzvot. He explains that the Torah discusses the mitzvah of veyduy in the context of its treatment of sacrifices. This context might mislead a person to assume that the performance of veyduy is an element within the offering of sacrifices and that without a sacrifice veyduy is not performed. Maimonides explains that this is not the case. The performance of veyduy is required whenever a commandment is violated. Even when a sacrifice is not or cannot be brought the performance of veyduy is required. Therefore, veyduy deserves to be treated as an independent mitzvah and not as a mere element within the process of offering a sacrifice.[8]

Maimonides is clearly defending his treatment of veyduy as an independent mitzvah within the system of Taryag – the 613 mitzvot. He is arguing that veyduy is not an element of the process of offering a sacrifice. But if this is Maimonides position, why does he include this mitzvah among the mitzvot dealing with sacrifices?

In short, there are two problems with Maimonides’ treatment of the mitzvah of veyduy. First, in his Mishne Torah he describes it as the mitzvah that is the basis of the laws of repentance. He does not relate it to sacrifices. In his Sefer HaMitzvot, he places it among the mitzvot relating to sacrifices. Second, in his Sefer HaMitzvot, he stresses the veyduy is not merely part of the process of offering a sacrifice. It is an independent mitzvah. Yet, the places the mitzvah among the mitzvot related to sacrifices.

It seems from Maimonides’ different treatments of this mitzvah in these two works that Sefer HaMitzvot and Mishne Torah have very different organizational schemes. In Sefer HaMitzvot, the commandments are organized and formulated in a manner that reflects their treatment in the Torah. Although veyduy is an independent mitzvah, it is presented in the Torah in conjunction with the Torah’s discussion of sacrifices. Sefer HaMitzvot adopts the organizational scheme of the Torah. Therefore, although veyduy is an independent mitzvah, because the Torah presents the mitzvah in relation to sacrifices, Maimonides preserves this presentation in his Sefer HaMitzvot.

However, the Torah is not just a system of 613 mitzvot. It is also a system of law – of halacha – the guides every aspect of our personal and national lives. Mishne Torah is a code of law. It presents the various laws of the Torah as a systematic and comprehensive legal system. In this context, veyduy and repentance play a fundamental role. Therefore, Maimonides places veyduy in the first book of his Mishne Torah. This placement reflects the fundamental nature of the process of repentance.

A simple analogy will help illustrate the difference between these two organizational schemes. Assume that an author wishes to write a book that graphically describes the human body. The author begins with the toes and describes every body part up to an including the crown of the head. Another author wishes to write a text on anatomy. He begins with a description of the fundamental internal organs. He describes the heart and lungs, the digestive organs. He eventually arrives at the finger and toes. Both authors are describing the body. Is one organizational scheme more correct than the other? Of course not! Both are correct; the authors have different objectives. The first author wishes to present the body as it appears to the observer. His scheme corresponds with this objective. The second author’s objective is to describe the body as a system. He begins with the most fundamental elements of the organic system and then continues on to the other elements. Sefer HaMitzvot organizes the mitzvot as they appear in the Torah. Mishne Torah is more concerned with exploring and presenting the mitzvot as a system of halacha. Therefore, Maimonides departs from the observable organizational scheme and presents the mitzvot in a manner that expresses their interrelationship within the system of halacha.

Let is now return to Maimonides treatment of the mitzvah of sounding the trumpets. Our parasha begins with a discussion of material primarily related to the Mishcan, and sacrifices. In this context, the mitzvah of the trumpets is presented. It follows that in Sefer HaMitzvot Maimonides will present the mitzvah in this context. Therefore, he characterizes the mitzvah as primarily commanding us to sound the trumpets when offering the Festival and Rosh Chodesh sacrifices. This description is true to the presentation in the Torah.

However, according to Maimonides, this mitzvah is also the fundamental commandment upon which the laws of fasting are constructed. Mishne Torah is designed to present the system of halacha. The laws of fasts are fundamental component of this system. They are certainly not merely a postscript to the obligation to sound the trumpets when offering Festival and Rosh Chodesh sacrifices. Therefore, Maimonides places the mitzvah of sounding the trumpets at a time of affliction at the opening of the section of the laws dealing with fasts and emphasizes the role of the mitzvah as the foundation of this section.

 

[1] Rabbaynu Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam / Maimonides) Mishne Torah, Hilchot Ta’aniyot 1:1.

[2] Rabbaynu Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam / Maimonides) Mishne Torah, Hilchot Kelai Maikdash 3:5.

[3] Rabbaynu Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam / Maimonides) Mishne Torah, Hilchot Chagigah 3:4.

[4] Rabbaynu Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam / Maimonides) Sefer HaMitzvot, Mitzvat Aseh 59.

[5] Rabbaynu Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam / Maimonides) Mishne Torah, Hilchot Ta’aniyot 1:1.

[6] Rabbaynu Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam / Maimonides) Mishne Torah, Hilchot Teshuvah 1:1.

[7] Rabbaynu Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam / Maimonides) Sefer HaMitzvot, Mitzvat Aseh 73.

[8] Rabbaynu Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam / Maimonides) Sefer HaMitzvot, Mitzvat Aseh 73.