Parashat B’ha’a’lot’cha opens as the Israelites are about to begin their journey from Mount Sinai to the Promised Land. The beginning of their journey to Israel raised anxieties and concerns among the people about how their needs for sustenance will be met, as well as about who has the authority to lead them.
One verse of interest to me in the parashah is Numbers 10:2. God tells Moses and the Jewish people, “Have two silver trumpets made; make them of hammered work.” These trumpets will be used to summon the community to assembly, to start communal journeys, set the divisions in motion, to announce festivals and Rosh Chodesh days, and when making sacrifices on the altar. As a reminder, God says, “They shall be a reminder of you before your God. I, Adonai, am your God.”
I found it curious that the English interpretation in the Plaut Torah Commentary is not the same as in the Hebrew, which says “aseh lecha shtei hatzotzrot kesef,” meaning “make yourself two silver trumpets.” The rabbis of the Mishna noticed this as well when they asked what the purpose is of “yourself?” What does it mean to make yourself a trumpet? We know the phrase “blow your own trumpet” as meaning talk about oneself. But I see this Hebrew verse meaning something different.
The ancient rabbis in Midrash Bamidbar Rabbah said that by making ourselves trumpets, the sounds and music we produce allow us to focus attention on our service to God. A trumpet doesn’t draw attention by itself. People focus on an instrument when the sounds and music come from it. The notes that let go are added to the tapestry of music in the world and life itself. But our music is also the sacred mitzvot we perform while still living. The notes are ours to release but not our own.
I have worked hard to produce some beautiful notes – by raising my precious daughter, Ilana, to be an independent and proud Jewish woman; by studying, praying, and volunteering at Temple Sinai of Bergen County in Tenafly, NJ; co-leading worship at The Reform Temple of Putnam Valley; by volunteering with the Women of Reform Judaism and New Jersey Education Association, by working with integrity and diligence to provide a quality music education to my students, and in countless other ways. I always try to do my work in the spirit of praising Adonai.
This verse teaches that we should strive to make our lives meaningful, approaching every task and/or prayer with intent. We should always be aware of the notes we are producing each minute of the day. We are the trumpets, but God wrote the score.
Annice M. Benamy is WRJ Atlantic District President. She is Sisterhood Vice President of Ritual and Social Justice for Temple Sinai of Bergen County in Tenalfy, NJ. She is also cantor at the Reform Temple of Putnam Valley in Putnam Valley, NJ.