Did you ever wonder about why so many obscure passages appear in the Torah that seem to have little or no meaning? And yet, our sages tell us that every passage in the Torah is pregnant with meaning, with so much to say to us. Take for instance the passage in the today’s Torah reading about the 2 trumpets (Numbers 10:1-10): Hashem spoke to Moses saying, “Make for yourself two silver trumpets—make them hammered out and they shall be yours for the summoning of the assembly and to cause the camps to journey. When they sound a long blast, the entire assembly shall assemble to you, to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting. If a long blast is sounded with only one, the leaders shall assemble to you…short blasts shall they sound for their journeys…”
One of the lessons of the trumpets is clearly that timing is everything in life. The timing of the notes, the pause between the notes, is essential to communicate its message. Several years ago, a best friend and colleague, Rabbi Bernhard Rosenberg, left the Sbarro Pizza restaurant in Jerusalem with his family minutes before it exploded. Had anyone in his family ordered another slice, who knows…?
There are things in life that occur with a randomness that defies understanding, but then there are other things that seem to carry a great significance and meaning. Rabbi Raphael Kanter tells the stories of 2 hospital visits he made. He entered a hospital room where the family was gathered around the bed of a man in a coma. After speaking with them, he suggested that they pray together. So they joined hands and prayed and Rabbi Kanter recited the Mishebeyrach prayer for healing the sick. Just as they said “Amen” together…to everyone's astonishment, the man in the hospital bed opened his eyes, sat up and began to talk with his family!
Rabbi Kanter got a lot of good-natured kidding from the hospital personnel during his next visit. “Hey, Rabbi, would you come and visit my patient today?” But everyone who was in that room did agree that there was a remarkable moment of connection between them and the patient, and Gd.
Several weeks later, Rabbi Kanter entered the hospital room of someone who was terminally ill. The family shared with him the prognosis that he would die in a very short time. Rabbi Kanter suggested that he say the special prayer known as Vidui—a prayer for the last moments of life. With the agreement of the family, they gathered around the bed, holdings hands as he recited: O Lrd, our Gd, and Gd of our fathers, we acknowledge that our lives are in Your hands. May it be Your will that You bring healing,but if it is Your decree that he be taken by death, let it be merciful.
They concluded the prayer with the words of the Shema, “Hear, O Israel, Hashem is our God, Hashem One,” and when they pronounced the final Hebrew word, echad, signifying that Gd is one with everything and everyone, the dying man breathed a final breath and died.
Rabbi Kanter later said: “Some might say that timing is everything and that I was lucky. I think that something much deeper was going on, that there was a harmony in the room with everyone gathered around that made it possible for his dying when the Shema was on their lips. He was not an observant Jew, yet there was harmony in the room that made a powerfully religious moment possible, a harmony both on earth and in heaven.”
It’s timing that the Torah hints at today, when it describes the ancient communication devices—the silver trumpets—used to summon the people. Moses is told, “Make yourselves 2 silver trumpets.” These trumpets are to be sounded to bring the people together for 2 kinds if occasions; one is to sound an alarm in times of crisis or danger. The other is to proclaim a celebration, as the Torah says to sound them: “On your days of rejoicing, your festivals, and new moons.” (Numbers 10:10)
The use of the trumpets points to the 2 situations in which we have the potential to become more aware of Gd in our lives: strengthening us in times of crisis and danger, providing us with a language to express our joy at times of celebration.
Most of us will admit that there are occasions in our lives when we become aware of a special sense of the “flow” of time. The parent who steps into the stream of traffic to snatch a child from the path of an oncoming truck describes how time seems to slow down for her, and how she knows in slow-motion-time exactly what to do.
Or remember when you were little, out playing your favorite game? Your mother had to find you and bring you home in the twilight, because in the joy of the game, you had lost all awareness of the passage of time.
It can happen when you become engrossed in learning—either in class or in reading a book. It can happen in deep meditation or in prayer. In those special moments, we seem to be outside the normal realm of time and fully in the moment. It is at these special moments that the Shechina, Gd’s presence, can more easily enter our lives.
And there is one thing more. The awareness can work in either direction. If that awareness of Gd came to you in a time of crisis, it’s possible to call it up later, in a time of joy, and realize the preciousness of that time of celebration. And if it’s a feeling of gratitude for a moment when you realize you’ve received something with a value far beyond anything you deserve, you can rely on that awareness to make you strong during the later crisis you may be called upon to face.
The silver trumpets the Torah mentions disappeared long ago when the Temple was destroyed. But if you try, it’s still possible to hear their echo in your mind, making a way for Gd to enter your life, making you strong in the dark times and open to appreciate the joy. Yes, we no longer have the silver trumpets. But Gd still summons us in many different ways. We just have to hear the call and show up. Amen!
Rabbi Mark Hillel Kunis