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When you go to war in your Land against an enemy who oppresses you, you shall sound short blasts of the trumpets. You shall be remembered before the L-rd your G-d, and you shall be saved from your enemies (10:9).
On the days of your rejoicing and festivals… you shall sound the trumpets… and they shall be a remembrance for you before the L-rd your G-d… (10:10).
Within the Holy Land, the occasions when the Torah commanded the public blowing of the trumpets were ones of great sorrow on one hand, and ones of great joy on the other. The Rambam brings the tradition that times of sorrow and distress do not only include war, but also epidemic and drought. These short blasts of the trumpets are a call to repentance, and a reminder that sin causes sorrow and suffering. It is cruel for people to view such calamities as mere coincidences, because that will prevent the nation from changing its habits, causing them to continue in the corrupt ways that brought the impending calamity on them in the first place (Hilchot Taanit 1:1-2). [Significantly, the Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 29a) notes that short blasts denote sobbing, wailing.]
The Torah states that G-d will heed the sounds of the trumpets and react in favor of his people – whether they are blown in sorrow, or in joy. However, the text phrases G-d’s attitude towards the blowing of the trumpets in two different ways. In times of sorrow, the Torah assures that ‘you shall be remembered’ before G-d – implying just on that occasion. In contrast, G-d’s regard in times of happiness is much stronger: the text states that the sounds of the trumpets ‘shall be a remembrance before… G-d’. That phrase implies that G-d will view His People’s marking their happy occasions with the trumpets, and hold it in their continual, perpetual favor – not just on that occasion.
The Torah implies that the Almighty views the ceremonies rooted in real happiness more positively than those rooted in deep sadness. Why should this be so?
The Book of Judges relates the story of Jephtah. It opens with ill-treatment he suffered within his own family, causing him to run away from them:
Jephtah of Gilead – a mighty warrior, was the son of a woman who was a harlot. Gilead was the father of Jephtah. Gilead’s wife gave birth to children. They… grew up and drove Jephtah away, saying to him, “You shall not inherit in our father’s house because you are the son of another woman.” (Judges 11:1-2)
Later on, their lives were in danger. The Israelites were terrified because of impending war and destruction at the hands of the people of Ammon. They elders of Gilead turned to Jephtah to lead them in the battle for very survival. Jepthah recalled his earlier suffering:
Don’t you hate me, for you drove me out of my father’s house? Why do you turn to me now, when it is bad for you? (ibid: 7)
Nevertheless, he agreed to lead them. With the ‘spirit of G-d on him’ (ibid. 29) he brought the Israelites to a successful victory over the people of Ammon.
This story reflects the way many people relate to G-d. When things are going well, they enjoy life to the full, and at the same time they think – if at all – that they can make their own terms with the Almighty. In verbally painting the future at the end of his life, Moses said:
Jeshurun (Israel) became fat and kicked… and spurned the L-rd who made him (Deut. 32:15).
Keeping the Mitzvot was too great a burden during times of prosperity – especially, for example, with huge profits to be made from exploiting slaves beyond bounds permitted by the Torah (Jeremiah 34:8-11). Thus they ‘drove G-d out of their lives’ when they thought they were under sunny skies.
That suggests why G-d appears to be less enthusiastic, as it were, when appealing for His mercy, than when saying ‘thank you” because all is going well. The words of Jephtah, “Don’t you hate me, for you drove me out of my… house? Why do you turn to me now, when it is bad for you?” may well sum up the way G-d relates to sinners who turn to Him only when fearing for their lives and those of their families. “Where were you until now?” says G-d. “Why did you not ‘bring me into your lives’ when times were good?”
That does not mean that G-d does not want our prayers. When the accompanying trumpet blasts are sounded, G-d promises, they will be remembered, and you will be saved. But only so far, and no further.
In contrast, says G-d, when you turn to me in genuine joy and happiness because of all the good things which others so easily take for granted, the act of blowing the trumpets will become a ‘remembrance before me’ – something of permanent, not temporary merit.
In human terms, a real friend is one who shows loyalty and care even when he does not depend on you - when it is not in his immediate interest to connect with you. A person who only shows friendship when he needs you is a friend of sorts, but not a real friend.
So too is our relationship with the Almighty. The Torah requires us to keep the Mitzvot, and relate to G-d whether times are easy or difficult. As King David put it:
When I am surrounded with the pains of death… I find myself in suffering and distress, and I call in the Name of the L-rd (Psalms 116:3-4).
However in better times David did not forget to whom he owed his gratitude:
How can I thank G-d for all the wonderful things He has brought on to me. I raise the cup of salvation and call in the Name of the L-rd… (ibid. 12-13)
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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