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Q&A: Why Was Moses Told Exactly How To Blow His Trumpets?

August 1, 2016

Question: It says in Parashath B’ha’aloth’cha (Numbers 10:1-10) that Moses was to make himself two silver trumpets and have them blown thusly:

When they shall blow (w’thaq’u) with them, all the congregation shall gather themselves unto you at the entrance of the tent of meeting. And if they blow (yithqa’u)  with only one, then the leaders, the heads of the thousands of Israel, shall gather themselves unto you. And when you blow an alarm (t’ru’a), the camps that lie on the east side shall take their journey. And when you blow an alarm (t’ru’a) a second time, the camps that lie on the south side shall set forward; they shall blow an alarm for their journeys. But when the assembly is to be gathered together, ye shall blow (tithq’u), but you shall not sound an alarm (lo-thari’u).

We see that God commanded that t’qi’oth be blown when Moses needed to assemble people and t’ru’oth (accompanied by t’qi’oth, similarly to the way we blow t’ru’oth on Rosh Hashana – Rashi) were to be blown when the people marched. Why did He have to command it that way? Couldn’t God have left it to Moses (and the Leaders) to devise their own signals, say t’ru’oth for assembly and t’qi’oth for marching, or some other combination?

Answer: I have not seen this explicitly elsewhere, but I believe the answer lies in the traditional difference between the t’qi’a, which is traditionally a long, simple sound, and the t’ru’a, a complex sound. Note how the JPS translates the t’qi’a as either a blow or a blast, while the t’ru’a is translated as an alarm. That is not mistake. The Talmud reports how the identity of the sound of the t’ru’a was eventually the subject of controversy: was it what we now call sh’varim, what we call t’ru’a, or what we call sh’varim-t’ru’a? What is agreed upon is that the sound is complex, and certainly not the simple sound known forever as t’qi’a. The t’ru’a is the sound we are commanded to blow on Rosh Hashana, and out of doubt we sound all three possibilities, and each variation of t’ru’a is preceded and proceeded by a t’qi’a. The t’r’ua is the sound that has meaning. In the subsequent verses we read:

And when you go to war in your land against the adversary that oppresses you, then you shall sound an alarm (waharei’othem) with the trumpets; and ye shall be remembered before the LORD your God, and ye shall be saved from your enemies. Also in the day of your gladness, and in your appointed seasons, and in your new moons, ye shall blow (uthqa’tem) with the trumpets over your burnt-offerings, and over the sacrifices of your peace-offerings; and they shall be to you for a memorial before your God: I am the LORD your God.

That is, the t’ru’a is the sound we are to make when trouble is afoot, whereas the t’qi’a is an expression of Joy. The t’ru’a is a sound that is supposed to wake us up and alert us to the fact that we have to pray. There is much that our sages have to say about this with regards to the sounding of the t’ru’a on Rosh Hashana. I am reminded of the story Rabbi Soloveitchik would tell of the Lubavitcher Hasid who cried before sounding the shofar; I am also reminded of the closing benediction of the shofaroth prayers, “Blessed art Thou, Who heareth the sound of the t’ru’a of His people, Israel, with mercy.” Similarly, in the third chapter of Tractate Ta’anith, the t’ru’a is the sound that accompanies the prayers in times of war or drought, while the t’qi’a is used for assembly.

Moses was given the commandment to make and use these trumpets while the people were still encamped at Horeb and preparing to march to the Hoy Land and make war. Their camps were placed into military formation. War is a time of trouble and danger, so it fitting that t’ru’a be sounded when the camp was to begin marching. I believe that Moses understood this implicit message, because a few verses later it says:

And it came to pass, when the ark set forward, that Moses said: ‘Rise up, O Lord, and let Your enemies be scattered; and let them that hate You flee before You.’

That is, Moses saw that the time for marching was a time for prayer.

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