Thursday, 27 May 2010

Written by Dr Annette Boeckler, LBC Librarian

A famous relief on the Arch of Titus in the Roman Forum shows what the Romans brought as trophies from Jerusalem to Rome. Well known is the representation of the seven-branched candelabrum. Above the large, hexagonal stepped base there are three massive arches, which together with the middle column form the seven arms. The menorah on the Arch of Titus served as the model for many later menorah replications, including the one before the Knesset in Jerusalem. Our Torah portion this week begins with laws about the usage of the menorah: Beha‘alotecha et ha-nerot “When you mount the lamps…” (Num. 8:1).

It is far less known, however, that the Romans also brought to Rome two long, thin, silver trumpets. On the relief they are carried in front of the menorah; they lie above each other and both together form the shape of an X.

This week's parashah includes the Laws on these trumpets, which are called in Hebrew chatzotzerot:

The Lord also spoke to Moses, saying: Have two silver trumpets made; make them of hammered work. They shall serve you to summon the community and to set the divisions in motion. When both are blown in long blasts (ותקעו בהם), the whole community shall assemble before you at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting. . . . But when you sound short blasts (ותקעתם תרועה), the divisions . . .shall move forward (Num. 10:1–5).

In Numbers 10, the children of Israel are about to depart from Mount Sinai. Since Exodus 19, they had camped there to receive Torah. Now the time has come to move on and to interpret the received Torah as a lifestyle. The final laws given at Sinai are the ones about the two silver trumpets. We shall blow them to start a journey (10:5–8), to prepare for battles (10:9), and to mark our celebration of joyful days (10:10).

The biblical Hebrew itself just says “You shall blow a sound” (ותקעתם תרועה), but other expressions are used, such as “they shall blow into them” (ותקעו בהם). According to Jewish tradition the text speaks of two different sounds: tekia, a long note, and terua, short notes (Talmud RH 34a).1 The sounding of the long tone summons a congregational gathering (10:3). Short tones, however, give the signal for departure (10:5). According to Rashi the sound of the journey has to be tekia, terua, tekia (Rashi on Num. 10:5; cf RH 34a). Jewish journeys are journeys as communities; the terua is always embedded within two tekias.

We get two different reasons to blow the silver trumpets, which may correspond to two different dangers that the wandering people having left Sinai may now encounter. The people leaving Sinai may face external threats of being attacked because of the Torah, because of being Jewish. Therefore, the law is given about the trumpet-blowing to start a battle. The second danger is internal; the people may start to murmur, to lose trust in God and not to keep the laws just received. Therefore, the laws about the trumpet sounds on Jewish festivals are given, because they are the milestones of Jewish identity. These trumpet sounds proclaim community and battle; they are reminders for God to remember us (10:10) and are calling us to keep our identity as Jews.

In 70 CE the Romans took away the two trumpets and since then they have been preserved on the Arch of Titus in Rome. But the sounds that should be produced are with us still. Today we do not use silver trumpets – hatzotzerot – but a shofar, a ram’s horn, that can be created everywhere at any time wherever there is cattle. In the month of Elul and on Rosh Hashanah we hear tekia, terua, tekia, the sounds that set us into movement and mark the start of a journey.

Just recently we celebrated Shavuot, and you may wonder why I am talking about Rosh Hashanah. In Jewish liturgy there is a tendency to look forward; the melodies at the end of one section lead over to the next one. The next Jewish holiday will be in September: Rosh Hashanah. After Shavuot we can set our minds towards meeting God, the King. However, not only the beginning of a new year marks the beginning of a journey. Today, a few days after Shavuot, we are called by our weekly portion to reflect already on the importance of tekia and terua, the importance of the Jewish community and of Judaism as people on a journey.

Dr Annette Boeckler
May 2010


1 There were different opinions about how short the short notes have to be and about how many. Therefore Jewish tradition transmitted a compromise: two ways of blowing Terua. The first, called terua today, consists of nine short quick sounds. The alternative one is called shevarim, three connected short sounds (see Talmud RH 33b-34a). As we don't know, what the Torah exactly meant, we blow sets with all possible interpretations of terua.

The views expressed in this D’var Torah do not necessarily reflect the position of Leo Baeck College.