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Parashat B’ha-alot’cha (Numbers 8:1-12:16)

“And let Aaron designate the Levites before the Lord as an elevation offering
from the Israelites, that they may perform the service of the Lord.” (Numbers 8:11)

There is a stone, by Robinson’s Arch at the southern edge of the Western Wall, inscribed with the words, “l’veit hat’kiya, to the trumpet-blowing place.” Discovered in 1971 by Hebrew University professor Benjamin Mazar, it offers physical evidence of Jewish life in Second Temple Jerusalem.

Those trumpets appear in Parashat B’ha-alotecha, when God instructs Moses to blow them to signal to the people when to gather and when to march (Num. 10:1-10). This is the source for the shofar’s musical patterns for Rosh Hashana: the t’kiah, or long blast, and the t’ruah, or short blast.

The instructions end with “Uv’yom simchatchem, On the day of your rejoicing, and on your fixed festivals and new moon days, you shall sound the trumpets …” (Num. 10:10). The fixed festivals are Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot, the three pilgrimage festivals, while new moon days refers to Rosh Chodesh, the New Month. But uv’yom simchatchem is ambiguous.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888; German rabbi considered the father of modern Orthodox Judaism) notes the previous verse (Num. 10:9), which speaks of war, is in the past tense while uv’yom simchatchem is in the present tense. He concludes the release from oppression creates peace and peace allows for joy. Now it is not a specific day that triggers joy, but an ongoing state. Thus, each individual day is potentially a day of joy, worthy of expressions of gratitude.

Parashat B’ha-a lot’cha’s message is timely: we are in a great national debate about oppression. The hope is to achieve a state of peace so the trumpets can blow and we all can rejoice.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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