If you go to war in your Land against an adversary that oppresses you, you shall blow a teruah with the trumpets and be remembered before the Lord your God, and thus be saved from your enemies. On the days of your rejoicing, on your festivals and on your new-moon celebrations, you shall blow on the trumpets for your ascent-offerings and your peace sacrifices, and it shall be a remembrance before your God; I am the Lord your God.
Going to War or an Enforced War
The Rebbe of Kotzk asks why in our parasha the Torah writes that trumpets are to be blown to “be remembered before God and thus be saved from” our enemies, while in Parashat Ki Teitzei, the Torah writes “If you go out to war against your enemies, the Lord, your God, will deliver him into your hands…” [Devarim 21:10] implying that Am Yisrael’s (Nation of Israel’s) victory is not dependent upon blowing the trumpets.
The Rebbe’s answer is that there is a distinction between Am Yisrael’s fighting a war of initiative and its awaiting the enemy’s attack within Eretz Yisrael. When Am Yisrael understands the need to take the initiative and does not hesitate to go to battle, God will help the Am Yisrael and provide their victory. However, when Am Yisrael hesitates and vacillates, going into battle only when the enemy has already entered the Land – “If you go to war in your Land,” – it is necessary to blast the trumpets, to repent and to call on God before He will intervene.
The Kotzker Rebbe adds that beyond the lessons for Klal Yisrael concerning wars, the pesukim (verses) teach lessons about the personal Divine service of every one of us. A person must not wait until the evil inclination reaches him in order to fight it. Such a battle will be much more difficult, requiring use of “trumpets” and other means to overcome the evil inclination. The ideal situation is for the individual to take the initiative and engage the evil inclination before it attempts to entice him, defeating the evil inclination before it even begins.
As One Person with a Single Heart
The Kotzker Rebbe’s grandson, the Sochatchover Rebbe (Shem miShmuel, Parashat Ki Teitzei 5670) offers an additional answer to his grandfather’s question, noting that the verse in our parasha uses the plural “you”, while Parashat Ki Teitzei employs the singular. When Am Yisrael is united as one person with a single heart, says Shem miShmuel, the nation’s victory will be immediate; however, if the nation is “scattered and separated” [Esther 3:8], that is disunited, and cannot be referred to in the singular, it is necessary to blow the trumpets to “be remembered before God.” Being “remembered before God” comes through the realization that our strength comes not from individuals, but from the power of the collective and that Am Yisrael’s virtue lies in its unity. It is only through our unity that we will are able to defeat our enemies. The trumpet blasts are intended to gather Israel together – “וְתָקְעוּ בָּהֵן וְנוֹעֲדוּ אֵלֶיךָ כָּל הָעֵדָה אֶל פֶּתַח אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד” (“When they blow on them, the entire congregation shall assemble to you, at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting”) [Bemidbar 10:3]. Upon hearing the trumpet blasts, Am Yisrael should unite, and only then can it achieve victory.
In order to understand how we can know if Israel is truly united, we shall reflect on the words of Rabbi J. B. Soloveitchik.
The Two-headed Man
Rabbi J. B. Soloveitchik (My Beloved Knocks [Kol Dodi Dofek], pp. 47-49) writes that a halachic question was raised in the bet midrash – how is a two-headed mans viewed for purposes of inheritance? “Does he take two portions like a dual person, or does he take one portion like a single unified individual?” The answer given in the bet midrash was that boiling water is to be poured on one of heads – if the second cries out in pain, then both heads blend into one complete and unified personality, indicating that the two-headed man is indeed a single person. However, if the second head does not feel the pangs of the first head, it is clear that we two personalities coupled together in one body and they take two portions.”
In a similar manner, the test of Am Yisrael’s unity is the ability of one Israelite to feel the pain of his fellow’s suffering.
The authoritative ruling is that as long as there is shared suffering, in the manner of “I will be with him in trouble” [Tehillim (Psalms) 91:15], there is unity. If the Jew upon whom Divine Providence has shed a beneficent light, and who consequently believes that, at least with respect to him, the venom of hate and rejection has been expunged from his surroundings, still feels the troubles of the people and the burden of a fate-laden existence, then his link with the people has not been broken. If boiling water is poured upon the head of a Jew in Morocco, the fashionably attired Jew in Paris or London has to scream at the top of his voice, and through feeling the pain, he will remain faithful to his people.
The greatest demonstration of Jewish unity is when every Jew, no matter where he is, feels the pain and suffering of less fortunate Jews. If a Jew feels safe and secure in his own setting, while Jews elsewhere are suffering, the nation is disunited.
The Joy of Klal Yisrael
We may add to the comments of Shem miShmuel and Rabbi Soloveitchik that the true indication of Jewish national unity comes not only in times of wars and suffering, but in times of joy as well. It is often easier to unite in times of suffering and sorrow while in joyous times, every individual is focused on his own personal joy. Therefore, the Torah commands numerous times that we must include others in our celebrations at joyous times, especially those who need assistance in rejoicing:
Then, you shall rejoice with all the good that the Lord, your God, has granted you and your household you, the Levite, and the stranger who is among you.
… and you shall rejoice, you and your household; and the Levite who is in your cities you shall not forsake him, for he has neither portion nor inheritance with you.
And you shall rejoice before the Lord, your God you and your sons and your daughters and your menservants and your maidservants, and the Levite who is within your cities, for he has no portion or inheritance with you.
It is reasonable to suggest that the reason the Torah commands blowing the trumpets on days of rejoicing, specifically when the public sacrifices were offered, and not with private sacrifices is to remind Am Yisrael that both in times of war and in times of joy, the strength of Am Yisrael is communal strength and not that of individuals. Just as wars are a communal matter, so too is rejoicing. Blowing the trumpets to assemble the nation conveys this principle.
Ibn Ezra’s Exposition
Though Chazal (our Sages) understood “the days of your rejoicing” to refer to Shabbat or the days sacrifices were offered [Midrash Sifrei, Bemidbar 15], Ibn Ezra [commentary on Bamidbar 10:10] suggests a completely different understanding of the verse, connecting the two pesukim (verses) directly. “The days of your rejoicing,” suggests Ibn Ezra, are the days when Am Yisrael returns victoriously from battle in its enemy’s land, and establishes days of rejoicing, such as Purim or the seven days of Chezekiah.” According to Ibn Ezra, we must blast trumpets both at times of war and following our victory, as an expression of joy and appreciation to God for providing us with victory, and this verse is the source which mandates the obligation to establish days of rejoicing to commemorate our military victories.
From the pesukim quoted, we learn various modes of behavior which should guide the nation at times of war:
One, we should take the initiative in battle and not await the enemy’s attack within the Land. [Kotzker Rebbe]
Two, victory in wars requires national unity – as one person, with a single heart. [Shem miShmuel]
Three, it is imperative to be united also in times of rejoicing, and involve others in our rejoicing, rather than focusing on our private joy.
Four, we must remember God both in war and in victory. In war – to pray for Divine assistance; in victory – to establish days of thanksgiving to God for having given us the victory. [ibn Ezra]
In Our Generation
In our generation, each of the points mentioned above carries renewed meaning. For almost two thousand years, with virtually the entire nation in exile, fighting a war to protect the Land was merely a dream. Today, thank God, we are privileged to live in our Land, with a strong army fighting our wars. We must remember all of the principles discussed above. While the decision to go to war does not rest with us as individuals, the power to unite the nation does rest in the hands of each and every one of us. The obligation to rejoice n the nation’s victories and to thank God for them too rests upon each of us. It is not without reason that the wise men of our generation chose the verses quoted above as part of the Yom haAtzmaut prayers.
The War of Independence brought our army’s first victory. Since then, thank God, we have been privileged to have many additional victories in Eretz Yisrael. We must express our thanks and appreciation to God for the privilege of living in this generation and rejoice in all the victories of Am Yisrael within its Land.
May it be His will that we always merit “days of rejoicing, festivals and celebrations,” and realization of the completion of the verse, blowing the trumpets for the sacrifices in the rebuilt Temple, speedily in our days, Amen.