Purpose of the Trumpet Blowing

Purpose of the Trumpet Blowing

Bemidbar 10

Interactive Learning Module

Trumpet Blowing / Mechon HaMikdash

1. Introduction

  • לגרסה בעברית של יחידת לימוד זו, לחצו כאן.‏
  • Bemidbar 10 speaks of the command to make two silver trumpets and the roles these were to play both during the era of the wilderness and thereafter.
  • However, the verses leave the exact purpose of the trumpet blowing open to interpretation, leading commentators to debate even the most basic of questions: Did the trumpets serve a practical or religious function?
  • An in depth analysis of this issue can be found at Purpose of the Trumpet Blowing. As you use this module, you are invited to compare your own analysis with the analysis found there.

2. Exploring the Unit

  • Let's begin our study with the verses themselves. Access the Dual Mode of the Mikraot Gedolot on Bemidbar 10:1-10 here and scan the ten verses in the unit.
  • According to the verses, what circumstances call for the blowing of trumpets? Can these be categorized?
  • Is there a common denominator that unites all of the different types of cases? What is the ultimate goal of blowing the trumpets in each instance?
  • Which verses might suggest that the trumpets played a purely utilitarian role? What might suggest that they were ceremonial and served a religious function?

3. Later Biblical Cases of Trumpet Blowing

  • To better understand the import of the trumpet blowing, let's look at how the command was implemented later in history. What roles did the trumpets play throughout the Biblical period?
  • Click on the word חֲצוֹצְרֹת in verse two to access the One Click Concordance and find all occurrences of the root in Tanakh
  • Scan the various verses, clicking on the chapter-verse link next to each to see the verse in context. For what purposes were trumpets used throughout Nakh?
  • Do the trumpets function in the same manner later in Tanakh as our verses in Bemidbar might indicate?

4. Olam HaMikra

  • Our quick survey reveals that in the Biblical period trumpets were used during coronations, celebrations (especially those involving the ark), and in times of war, as either an alarm or prayer.
  • Let's now utilize another tool, Olam HaMikra, a series of visuals which might offer a different perspective on the trumpets, giving insights into some of their uses during the Second Temple Period.
  • To exit the Concordance and return to the Mikraot Gedolot, click on the x in the top left corner of the pop-up.
  • Access Olam HaMikra by pressing the red arrow (next to the Rashi title) in the gray bar of the commentator pane and choosing "עולם המקרא" from the dropdown menu. Alternatively, press here.

5. Trumpets in Mikdash Times I

  • The first image, from Mechon HaMikdash, illustrates the blowing of trumpets in the Mikdash on Rosh Hashanah, as described in Mishna Rosh Hashanah 3:3. Is there any hint in Torah that the trumpets and shofar were blown together?
  • What might one learn regarding the purpose of trumpet blowing from what is known about the purpose of the blowing of the shofar? Are the two parallel?
  • For further study: Access the Concordance here, and in the input bar type שופר and press Search to explore the role of the shofar throughout Tanakh. How does its usage compare to that of the trumpets? After exploring this issue, return to Olam HaMikra here.

6. Trumpets in Mikdash Times II

  • Scroll down to the second image from the Arch of Titus. This commemorative arch depicts many of the vessels that were despoiled by the Romans upon their destruction of the Mikdash.
  • What might the fact that the trumpets are included in the spoils suggest about how they were viewed at the time? Were the trumpets, too, considered one of the "vessels" of the Mikdash?
  • The last image displays a stone block discovered at the Temple Mount inscribed with the words "לבית התקיעה להכ/ב". Some scholars reconstruct the last word to read "להכ{ריז}". Which of the functions of the trumpet mentioned in Bemidbar would this match?
  • Based on Mishna Sukkah 5:5 which speaks of trumpets being blown in the Mikdash to announce the arrival of Shabbat, others reconstruct the ending to read: "להב{טיל את העם ממלאכה}". Does Bemidbar 10 anywhere hint to (or pave the way for) the trumpets playing such a role?

7. Trumpets and Prayer

  • Let's now see how commentators have understood the trumpets' role. To what extent might their knowledge of the trumpets' later use influence their reading of Bemidbar 10?
  • We'll begin with Ibn Ezra on verses 8-10 (accessible from the dropdown menu in the gray bar) who suggests that the common denominator uniting all the cases in which the trumpets are blown is that they all relate to war.
  • How might the verses speaking of assembly and travel relate to battle? How does Ibn Ezra connect the sacrifices of "בְיוֹם שִׂמְחַתְכֶם וּבְמוֹעֲדֵיכֶם" to war?
  • In his comments to verse 9, Ibn Ezra writes, "גם תרועה זכר לנפשות לצעוק לשם". According to this, what is the ultimate purpose of the trumpet blowing? Is it a religious or utilitarian act? How might this be applied to the trumpet blowing during victory celebrations?

8. Trumpets to Honor

  • According to Ibn Ezra, the trumpets served a religious function, aiding the nation in two types of prayer. As the nation went to war, the trumpets accompanied their cries for salvation, and when they returned home the trumpets accompanied their offerings of thanksgiving.
  • Let’s compare his reading to that of Seforno who agrees that the trumpets functioned ceremonially, but views them not as cries for mercy but as blasts of honor.
  • Look at Seforno on verse 2. What are the trumpet blows meant to accomplish? What does Seforno mean when he writes, "צוה בחצוצרות לתרועת מלך בם"?
  • How might each of the cases in which trumpets are blown be viewed as heralding and honoring Hashem's presence? How is Hashem's presence found when the nation assembles, travels, or goes to war?
  • According to this approach, why is there a need for distinct sounds, with a teruah being blown in some cases and a tekiah in others?

9. Trumpets for Assembly

  • In contrast to the above approaches, a third reading of our verses views the trumpets as serving a purely practical function.
  • Press here to access Rashi on Bavli Rosh HaShanah 26b, looking at his comments on the words, "שמצות היום בחצוצרות". Rashi is not directly addressing our question, but his words here, nonetheless, point to a possible understanding of our verses.
  • Rashi writes regarding the trumpets blown on fast days: "לכנופיא בעלמא נינהו", noting that this is the general purpose of trumpet blasts, as evidenced by Bemidbar 10:2, "לְמִקְרָא הָעֵדָה".
  • How might the trumpet blowing in each of the cases mentioned in Bemidbar be viewed as simply a technical means to assemble the nation?
  • If the trumpets had no religious significance, how does blowing them cause Hashem to remember the nation? How would this approach interpret the phrases "וְנִזְכַּרְתֶּם לִפְנֵי י"י" and "וְהָיוּ לָכֶם לְזִכָּרוֹן"?

10. Changing Roles

  • Let's return to the Mikraot Gedolot to see one last approach to our verses, which suggests that the role played by the trumpet blowing changed over time. Let's look at Ralbag's Toalot on our verses in which he enumerates the lessons and mitzvot learned from the unit.
  • According to Ralbag, what function was served by the trumpets during the wilderness period? What role did they play in future generations?
  • How might this division be supported by the structure of our unit? How would Ralbag read the phrase, "וְהָיוּ לָכֶם לְחֻקַּת עוֹלָם לְדֹרֹתֵיכֶם" in verse 8?

11. Counting the Mitzvot

  • In his seventh Toelet, Ralbag favors counting the blowing of trumpets in times of war and with the sacrificial service as two distinct mitzvot, questioning why Rambam does not do the same.
  • Access the list of links to the מוני המצוות here and click on the link to Rambam's Sefer Mitzvot. How many mitzvot does he enumerate from our unit? What might the fact that he counts both types of blowings as but one mitzvah suggest about how he understands the obligation and purpose of the trumpet blowing?
  • Now, compare the Rambam's counting with that of R. Moshe of Coucy (Semag). What does the Semag count as a mitzvah and what does he omit? Why might that be? How might he be understanding the Torah's declaration to blow in times of war? [What war might he think the verses are referring to?]

12. Summary

  • The blowing of the trumpets has been variously understood as serving either a religious function, a utilitarian role, or both.
  • Ibn Ezra views the trumpets as instruments of prayer, blown in times of war. When the nation headed to battle, the trumpets were blown to encourage the people to pray and thus merit salvation. Upon returning, they were blown to celebrate and thank Hashem for the victory.
  • Seforno, too, views the trumpets as playing a ceremonial role, suggesting that they served to announce the presence of Hashem. Just as trumpets herald the arrival of a human king, they similarly honor the appearance of Hashem, the King of Kings.
  • Rashi's approach, in contrast, suggests that the trumpets were purely functional. They were a practical means of signaling the nation to assemble, travel, gather for war, or attend communal offerings.
  • The final approach of Ralbag combines these readings. While the trumpets served a practical role in the wilderness period, they subsequently took on a religious function, awakening the nation to prayer as they left for war and focusing the priests on their tasks as they served in the Mikdash.

13. Additional Reading