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The God Squad: The silver trumpets

Rabbi Marc Gellman, Tribune Content Agency on

Every Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana (which this year begins Friday night Sept. 15), I send out a severe abbreviation of my sermon to my congregants of Temple Beth Torah, This year may we all be inscribed for blessing in the Book of Life.

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We read about the silver trumpets in the Book of Numbers 10:1-10,

The LORD said to Moses: "Make two trumpets of hammered silver and use them for calling the community together and for having the camps set out. Also at your times of rejoicing -- your appointed feasts and New Moon festivals -- you are to sound the trumpets over your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, and they will be a memorial for you before your God. I am the LORD your God."

The function of the trumpets is the key to their meaning. The first function was to gather the people together. The second function was to send the people forth.

The trumpets teach us two things based on these two functions. They teach us what we need to learn as Jews, and the trumpets also teach us what we need to learn as human beings.

 

So what are the Jewish values meant for Jews that the silver trumpets gathered us together to learn?

I pick one, kol yisrael aravim zeh la zeh. “All Israel is bound together one to another.” Found in tractate Shevuot 39a and other places, this famous rabbinic teaching presents us with the glue that holds together our belief in Jewish peoplehood. It is the belief that we are not just a random collection of individuals; we are a holy people bound together by common beliefs and a shared history. We are a people who are bound together because we were created by God.

Professor Michael Wyschograd grasped this point perfectly in his brilliant 1983 work, The Body of Faith. He taught, “Judaism is not a set of ideas. There are ideas that are specifically Jewish and that can be presented as the teachings of Judaism. But they do not constitute Judaism. Separated from the Jewish people, nothing is Judaism. If anything, it is the Jewish people that is Judaism.”

Our love of other Jews does not preclude our ability to love everybody else. In addition to kol yisrael aravim zeh la zeh our tradition also teaches us in Leviticus 19:18, v’ahavta l’reiacha kamocha, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Our particularity is a foundation not an obstacle to our universalism. We may be a tribe, but our tribal mission extends to all the world. As Isaiah taught (49:6), “It is too little that you should be My servant, in that I raise up the tribes of Jacob and restore the survivors of Israel: I will also make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach the ends of the earth.” The rabbis also taught, “The only real sorrow is that which Jews and gentiles share.”

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