Rabbi Yaakov Haber
Rabbi Yaakov Haber

The Dual Themes of the Clarion Call

[1]"And when you go to war against the enemy who oppresses you, you shall blow the trumpets, and you shall be remembered before Hashem, your G-d, and you will be delivered from your enemies" (B'ha'alos'cha 10:9). With this sentence, the Torah commands us to sound the trumpets in a time of communal tzara, distress. (The trumpets are also blown in the Beis HaMikdash in the context of the offering of communal korbanos, but that is not our focus in this article.) Both Rambam (Hilchos Ta'aniyos 1:1) and Ramban (Hasagos L'Seifer HaMitzvot l'HaRambam, Mitzas 'Asei 5) enumerate this commandment as one of the 613 mitzvos. However, interestingly, whereas the Torah directs us only to blow the trumpets, "vaharei'osem bachatzo'tz'ros", Rambam adds "liz'ok ul'hari'a", "to cry out and to blow", and Ramban similarly adds "liz'ok l'fanav bi'tfila uvi'tru'a", "to cry out before Him with prayer and the trumpet-call". In the koteret, or introduction, to Hilchos Ta'aniyos, the Rambam formulates the mitzva as "lits'ok lifnei Hashem b'chol eis tzara g'dola shelo tavo 'al ha'tsibbur", "to cry out before G-d at [the time of] every great tragedy which should never come to [a euphemism for 'befalls'] the congregation." The blowing of the trumpets is omitted entirely! Apparently, the Rishonim understood the Torah's commandment as an obligation to cry out in prayer to G-d when tragedy threatens; the trumpets are just a vehicle of "musical prayer" to be accompanied by prayer of the lips as well. Rav Soloveitchik zt"l (see Y'mei Zikaron) explained this theme of "prayer without words" as representing the motif that often we do not know adequately how to express our needs and we just cry out to G-d as a child would to his parent. He applied a similar analysis to the blowing of the shofar on Rosh HaShana. (See Seifer HaChinuch (384) for an alternative understanding of the nature of the mitzva to sound the trumpets.)

It would appear from the simple reading of the formulation of the p'sukim, as well as that of Rambam and Ramban that this commandment applies specifically to a communal tzara. However, Rav Moshe Feinstein zt"l (O.C. 2:25) as well as Seifer HaChinuch (433) seems to have understood that it applies even to an individual tzara. The students of the Brisker Rav, Rav Velvel Soloveitchik zt"l, record that their teacher used to constantly recite the passuk, "lishuat'cha kivisi Hashem", "I await your salvation, Hashem", in fulfillment of this Divine directive.

Seifer HaChinuch (ibid.) describes how Hashem gave us the gift of being able to pray to him in time of need. "Patach lahem petach ba'asher yasigu kol mish'aloseihem l'tov," He affords us the opportunity to cry out to Him when we are in need and will often respond positively to our requests when done in earnest. However, he further notes that Hashem commanded such prayer. Even though Rambam and Ramban debate whether or not daily prayer is biblically mandated, all agree that prayer in times of tzara is a mitzva min haTorah based on the verse in our Parasha. How are we to understand the nature of the commandment to pray in times of need? If one chooses not to, what divine concept is he violating? Apparently addressing this very question, Ramban writes in his formulation of this mitzva : "it is a commandment in time of troubles that we should believe that He (may He be blessed and exalted) listens to prayer and it is He who saves from distress through prayer and cries." Seifer HaChinuch formulates the commandment very similarly. It would appear then from Ramban and Seifer HaChinuch that the nature of the commandment to pray is that we are charged by Hashem to actively express belief and reliance (emuna u'bitachon) in the central tenets of our religion: that G-d, as Creator and Mashgiach, Eternal Overseer of the world, listens to prayer and is in ultimate control of all human events. Thus the beseecher, besides engaging in a natural call for help with the hope of a positive reply, by directing his request to the Holy One, expresses his faith and trust in Him. (In the article cited in [1], we have elaborated on this concept even further including one important ramification concerning the obligation of prayer for non-Jews.)

Rambam (ibid. 1:2), in his formulation of this commandment, seems to stress a different, albeit complementary, motif. "And this (act of prayer and sounding the trumpets) is midarkei haTeshuva (of the ways of repentance) that when a tzara occurs and they will cry out and sound the trumpets concerning it, all will know that because of their evil deeds, evil befell them... and this (awareness and prayer) will cause the removal of the tzara from them." Thus, the Rambam stresses not belief but repentance. Through turning to G-d in times of distress, we recognize the ultimate source of the trouble: our deficiencies in Divine service. The heartfelt prayer serves as an impetus for greater introspection and correction of spiritual flaws, which in turn would lead to a Divine repeal of the decree causing the tragedy.

After almost five years of intifada - with thousands of terrorist attacks against our fellow Jews in Israel claiming over a thousand Jewish lives and with attacks and attempts at attacks continuing through the present, in two months time, thousands of Jews are slated for removal from their homes in Chevel 'Aza, the Gaza Strip. This article is certainly not the forum to discuss the correctness of this political decision. However, even by the rosiest of predictions such action would lead to: an increase in terrorism at least in the short term; drastic emotional and psychological effects on those Jews removed and many others as well; and, of course, the very tragedy of having to evacuate sections of our Holy Land even if deemed politically necessary. Many other detrimental consequences are also anticipated at least in the short term. Even for those who feel that in the current environment the plan is a correct course of action, this time period, coupled with the backdrop of the ongoing intifada, certainly qualifies as an 'Eis Tzara! It therefore behooves all of us, in addition to strengthening other aspects of 'avodas Hashem - as well as perhaps other modes of expressing support and encouragement to acheinu B'nei Yisrael living in the communities slated for evacuation - to turn our eyes and hearts to shamayim and pour out our words of tefila to the Almighty for salvation, assistance and Divine protection in this very difficult time period. Whether by means of recital of T'hillim, extra concentration or even insertion of additional relevant requests in those parts of the Sh'mone 'Esrei dealing with salvation from trouble - such as the blessings of "R'ei na v'anyeinu", "Shm'a koleinu", and "Es Tzemach Dovid avd'cha", or intense focus on tachanun and specifically "V'Hu Rachum" on Mondays and Thursdays which we return to saying soon, we must increase our beseeching of the "Av HaRachamim" in this crucial juncture in the history of K'lal Yisrael and the Yishuv in Eretz Yisrael.

The dual motifs presented by Rambam and Ramban, those of 'Emuna and T'shuva, should guide us during these trying times. In the words of the prophet Isaiah (62:1): "L'ma'an Tzion lo echeshe ul'ma'an Yerushalayim lo eshkot 'ad yeitsei kanoga tsidka vishuata k'lapid yiv'ar", "For the sake of Zion I will not be silent, and for the sake of Jerusalem I will not be quiet, until her righteousness shines brightly, and her salvation is lit up like a torch!" May Hashem fulfill all of our requests l'tova!


[1] Some of the themes in this article were presented in a previous article, Rachel's Weeping and Tefila B'eis Tzara. We expand on these themes in this article due to its relevance to our Parasha and to current events.

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