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Parshas B'Haaloscha - What's All the Noise About?          18 Sivan 5779

06/20/19 22:48:42


An oxymoron is a literary device in which two contradictory words are used together.A good example of the oxymoron is the phrase “deafening silence.” Have you ever read that ‘the silence was deafening’? Or were you ever told that ‘your silence is deafening’? How can silence be deafening? After all, it’s clear that an extremely loud noise – such as an explosion - is deafening, but silence is the absence of any noise. Rare is a time in my life that there is complete silence. Growing up in the city and spending time in the country always has its share of different kinds of noises. Perhaps some of us can remember walking in a dense woods or standing outside in the midst of a vast desert that, for just a few seconds is wrapped in quiet, free of bird sounds, free of rustling wind, or even the scurrying of some animal. This is an experience devoid of all sound, and the silence can be deafening. Otherwise, life is full of noises.

If you were to stop and think, or, better yet stop and listen, the myriad of sounds and noises our ears bring to our brains is truly incredible. In reality, it is the ear that brings all sound to the brain which then deciphers just what that sound is and where it is coming from. Rarely do we have the time to stop and listen for different sounds and messages that life sends to us. The hissing of a snake can warn us of danger while the howling of the wind prepares us for a storm. Frequently, we are able to tune out some sounds that are not directly related to us. For example, when a child cries or babbles in Shul, I only “hear” that sound if it is my child (or today, my grandchild). If, on the other hand, that cry or babbling was noise coming from someone else’s child, the sound is typically ignored. Please take just a moment to process or “hear” the following noises……Achoo, Babbling, Cough, Gargle, Gibberish, Hiccup, Hum, Chomp. Awooga, Bang, Boom, Beep Beep Beep, Ding Dong, Fizz, Flutter, Honk, Kaboom, Oom-pah, Ping, Plop, Slosh, Splash, Squish, Swish, Thump, Tick Tick Tick, Tick tock, Vroom, Whoosh, Zap, Ching, Clink. Bark, Bleat, Buzz, Chirp Chirp, Growling, Hiss, Hoot, Meow, Moo, Purr, Quack, Ribbit, Roar, Screech, Bells, Whistles, Crash, Clash, Wham, Smack, Whomp, Whump, Thump, Bump. This is just a short list of onomatopoeias, words that imitate, resemble or suggest the source of the sound that they describe.

In Judaism we have sounds that express grief and sorrow as well as happiness and joy. But, primarily the sounds we’ve grown accustomed to hear are associated with certain mitzvos, such as hearing the sound of the shofar on Rosh Hashana. In the time the laws of the Jubilee were being announced, we also heard the Shofar on Yom Kippur of the fiftieth year. Today, in Yerushalayim and other cities in Eretz Yisrael, the sound of some type of horn is blasted incrementally announcing that the time to usher in Shabbos is drawing near. This blasting of a warning horn to remind us of apporoaching time is not only symbolic; it reminds us of the blowing of the horn which took place during the Mishnaic period. Throughout the armies of the world, trumpets were blown to indicate the ‘charge’ into battle and were also blown to warn people to run for safety. The Jewish people were no different;the horn was also blown during battle as well as for other purposes, as is seen in this week’s parsha.

In this week’s Parsha B’Haalosecha the Torah states ותקעו בהן ונועדו אליך כל העדה אל פתח אהל מועד: “When both of the trumpets are sounded with a long note, the entire community shall assemble at the Communion Tent entrance.” )Bamidbar 10:3( Then, in verses 4-8, the Torah presents a few different variations of sounds either emanating from only one of the trumpets and the differences between short and long notes of both of the trumpets. The Meam Loez explains that when Hashem wanted to speak to the entire nation, the people were gathered together by blowing one long Tekiah from both trumpets. If the purpose was only to call the Nesiim - the tribal leaders - to gather together, then only one trumpet blew a long Tekiah note. If the purpose was to announce the moving or traveling of the camp, then both trumpets blew a TRT: Tekiah, Teruah, Tekiah. Since a Teruah was one of the sounds heard, the people knew it signaled that the camp needed to initiate travel. The Alshich teaches us that it was the sons of Aharon HaKohein who blew the trumpets and no one else. In addition to the explanation of blowing, further understanding reveals the need to repeat the blowing in each quadrant so that everyone heard and understood that it was time to pack up and go. Many commentaries, understanding the need for a variety of sounds to indicate different messages, considered the possibility that these sounds could easily have been a series of blows that differed one from the other. Upon investigation it becomes clear that there is more to the actual number of trumpets blown and the corresponding different kinds of sounds they produced.

The Netziv in the Haamek Davar says the reason why it says both trumpets were used is because it was clear to hear when two horns were being blown as well as to distinguish when either the sounds were different from each other or when one trumpet played longer notes than the other. Two trumpets were blown for the Kavod, the honor, of the multitude of Jews. It was a call for the entire people! This is in contrast to only one trumpet being blown for the Nesiim, the princes of the tribe, designating them as unique among the people. The Mincha Belulah explains that the leaders were called with one trumpet so as not to create jealousy among them if they were to be called by Moshe and Aharon. Should that occur,,someone would have to be called first and someone last, in contrast to using just one trumpet, allowing everyone to be called at the very same moment.

Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch explains the essence of the words Tekiah and Teruah - the long blast and the staccato. A Tekiah is a straight blast/sound whose root is Taukah meaning to thrust, stick, insert, or drive into. The sound of the Tekiah is solid and long, piercing the air, telling the people they cannot break and to go forward with force. The word Teruah is a rattling sound, more like a cry or a rattle. The Teruah is a sound that causes alarm and perhaps even panic. The root of the word Teruah is to be shaky. Rabbeinu Bachya relates that the Tekiah is a straight-forward sound, symbolizing the character of mercy as we see in the verse that states that Hashem extends His right hand in order to receive those who want to return. When it comes to the nation traveling, the Teruah is blown as a sign that the people were about to enter in battle, therefore giving a cause for concern. The Teruah is symbolic of the character of judgment, a significantly scary time for Am Yisrael.

Sounds are the instruments through which we determine what is occurring around us, for good and for bad. We should learn to cut out all the noise and static in life that is basically a distraction and focus instead on the beautiful symphony that Hashem conducts through the messages of sound.

Sun, May 24 2020 1 Sivan 5780