Drash on Parashat Beha’alotcha
Rabbi Kim Ettlinger
Temple Beth Israel, St Kilda, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Beha’alotcha shares with us truths for our lives. We learn about ritual with the lighting of the Menorah, we learn about praying as Moses prayed for Miriam after she was struck with leprosy. We learn about kvetching when the Israelites complained they had no meat. We also learn that God wants two silver trumpets.
“God spoke to Moses, saying: ‘Have two silver trumpets made; make them of hammered work. They shall serve you to summon the community and to set the divisions in motion. When both are blown in long blasts, they whole community shall assemble before you at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting; and if only one is blown, the chieftains, heads of Israel’s contingents, shall assemble before you….The trumpets shall be blown by Aaron’s sons, the priests; they shall be for you and institution for all time throughout the ages’ (Numbers 12:1ff).
Interestingly, these trumpets are to be used for war and for announcing joyous occasions too. The different blast lengths are the basis for the Talmud’s rule on blowing the shofar on Rosh Hashanah.
The multiple uses of the trumpets are fascinating; from calling people together, to announcing war to announcing the new months. They are to be used both for the sacred and the profane, from the holy to the ordinary. It is rich and varied. How the trumpets are manufactured too represents this as the silver is holy and the act of hammering is profane. Aaron’s sons are to blow the trumpets, representing another dualism since Aaron was considered a Rodef Shalom, a pursuer of peace and they blow the trumpets for war.
As a Progressive Jew, I am inspired by the Prophetic message of social justice and social activism. But I feel we have become somewhat lazy. Perhaps we are caught in the business of work and the busy-ness of our lives and finding time for altruistic endeavours seems out of reach.
The song “If I had hammer” which was recorded in 1962 by Peter, Paul and Mary reminds me of our obligation for social justice. It reflected the sentiments of the peace movement in the 1960s, and was written in a time when John Kennedy promoted the civil rights of Black Americans, and war was erupting in Yemen, as was the Sino-Indian War. Tremendous fear was felt with the Cuban-Missile Crisis, which walked hand-in-hand with the very real threat of nuclear war. And, of course, the comic superhero Spider-man appears for the first time in Marvel Comics.
The song begins: “If I had a hammer, I'd hammer in the morning; I'd hammer in the evening, All over this land.” Each stanza is almost the same except that “hammer” is replaced by “bell” and lastly “song”. The song ends with “It's the hammer of Justice; it's the bell of Freedom’; it's the song about love between my brothers and my sister all over this land.”
As Jews we are commanded to hammer out justice, just as we are commanded to hammer out the trumpets so that the bells of freedom can ring out with justice and freedom. We are commanded in the pursuit of peace at all times. We are charged with seeking or pursuing peace. We must go after it. Yet, we have forgotten the holiness of justice, we are deaf to the trumpet’s blasts and many of us become jaded. We are no longer hammering out justice, nor are we calling community together. We often stand unmoved by the cries of an oppressed people and we commit the sin of being a by-stander.
We must change and we must follow the sacred. Let us continue to be partners with God and use our hammers and our songs, our trumpets and shofarot, our writings and our voices to fulfill our religious obligation of creating the sacred, in sanctifying our lives.