By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
June 1, 2002
The long-awaited moment, when the people of Israel prepare themselves to
enter the Land of Israel, has arrived. The people have followed Hashem’s
pillar of cloud dutifully as they traveled, remaining encamped as long as the
cloud stayed in place and traveling only when the cloud moved. This journey
will take them towards the Promised Land and a new life.
According to the word of Hashem would they encamp and according to the word of
Hashem did they journey; the charge of Hashem did they keep, according to the
word of Hashem by the hand of Moshe.
And Hashem spoke to Moshe saying, “Make for yourself two trumpets of
silver, beaten-work shall you make them, and they shall serve you for calling
the assembly and for the journeying of the camps.” (Bamidbar 9:23-10:2)
Rashi points out (10:2) that the people embarked on their journey in
obedience to three summonses: that of Hashem, of Moshe and of the trumpets.
This, as the Sifri (the Halachic Midrash on Bamidbar and Devarim, Beha’alotecha
14) notes, is surprising: If they always follow Hashem’s signal of the cloud and
Moshe’s instructions, why are they also commanded to blow trumpets?
R. Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin (1817-1893), in his commentary to Sifri, Emek
HaNetziv, answers that, even though their entire existence in the desert was
miraculous, Hashem wanted them to behave within the parameters of nature as much
as possible. We might add that this is particularly appropriate in preparation
for their natural existence in the Land of Israel, which is their goal.
An expected part of that existence in Israel, in which the trumpets will be
involved, is war:
And if you will come war (TAVO’U MILCHAMAH) in your land, against the
oppressor who oppresses you, then you shall blow upon the trumpets, and you
will be remembered before Hashem, your G-d, and you will be saved from your
enemies (verse 9).
The words TAVO’U MILCHAMAH present an obvious problem of translation, as R.
Berlin and Malbim (R. Meir Leib ben Yechiel Michael, 1809-1877) note: What is
the subject of the verb?
The letter TAV of TAVO’U might indicate the third person feminine subject,
referring to the feminine noun MILCHAMAH, yielding the translation “if war will
come”; however, this noun is singular, and TAVO’U is plural.
Another possibility is that the TAV indicates the second person plural subject,
suggesting the translation “if you will come to war”. However, it is far more
common for the Torah to say “if you will go (TETZEI) to war” (e.g., Devarim
The translation “if war will come” would exclude the use of the trumpets in wars
waged outside the Land of Israel, yet there is evidence to the contrary (see
Bamidbar 31:6; Shmuel I 4:5; Divrei HaYamim II 13:14, indicating the use of
trumpets outside the Land).
Sifri (18) solves the translation problem by saying that TAVO’U MILCHAMAH
includes both wars fought in the land, when the people must defend themselves
against enemy invasion, as well as wars fought outside the land. In all wars
you shall blow upon the trumpets, and you will be remembered before
Hashem your G-d, and you will be saved from your enemies (v.9).
According to Rambam, (Laws of Fast Days 1:1-3), this commandment further
obligates the Jewish people to cry out and to blow the trumpets for any trouble
that befalls the community . . . [to motivate them to] repentance . . . and that
will bring about the removal of the trouble from upon them.
This is the basis of the Rabbinic decrees proclaiming fast days in times of
Since our verse mentions explicitly “in your land,” the commandment to blow the
trumpets applies only in the Land of Israel, the focus of our unity and
salvation as a nation.
In recent times, with the creation of the State of Israel, and the troubles
there that affect the entire Jewish people, the question has been raised whether
the commandment to blow the trumpets should be revived in practice (see J. David
Bleich, Contemporary Halachik Problems, 1977, pp.199-202). R. Eliezer Waldenberg
(b. 1917), in his collected responsa Tzitz Eliezer (11:16), provides a survey of
some of the prominent views on this issue.
Ramban insists that the trumpets are blown only when the whole Jewish people
are affected by the trouble, and then only when they are in the Land of Israel.
A number of authorities, including the Sefer HaChinunch (ascribed to either R.
Aharon HaLevi or R. Pinchas HaLevi of Barcelona, mid-13th Century) and the Aruch
HaShulchan (R. Yechiel Michel Epstein, 1829-1908), argue that the Temple must be
standing in order for the trumpets to be blown. On this basis, R. Waldenberg
opposed blowing trumpets at the Western Wall in Jerusalem in 1970.
We might add to this the argument of Emek HaNetziv, that the commandment of
blowing the trumpets applies only when the Ark of the Covenant is in the midst
of the people of Israel.
There is no question that we are now living at a time when threats in the Land
of Israel have a direct effect upon Jews the world over. To echo the idea
expressed in Sifri, TAVO’U MILCHAMAH : there is war both within the land and
We will have to wait for the Mashiach, may he come speedily in our days, for all
the conditions to apply that will allow us to blow the trumpets in the Temple.
For now, we must unite in fervent prayer for the sake of our beloved Land of
and you will be remembered before Hashem your G-d, and you will be saved
from your enemies.