Yom Shabbat, 23 Av 5779
Saturday, 24 August 2019
Parashat Beha'alot'cha 2012

Parashat Beha'alot'cha: Cantor Gershon Silins
7th June 2012

In Numbers, chapter 10, in this week’s Torah portion, Beha’a lot’cha, there is a striking image. Moses is commanded to make two trumpets of silver, of hammered work, to be used for calling the assembly and for signals related to the journeying of the camps. The sons of Aaron are charged with blowing the trumpets, which are to be an ordinance forever, “chukkat olam l’dorotechem,,” “throughout your generations.”

These trumpets must have been wonderful to look at, beautifully made, and distinctively different from the other wind instrument that we read of in Torah, the shofar. The main distinction is that these trumpets are not hewn from something natural as the shofar is, but created by the artistic labours of those assigned to make them. In this instance, we are not told the identity of the skilled worker or workers charged with the task; Moses is commanded to make them, but it doesn’t seem likely that Moses did the actual work.

Aside from the powerful image of these instruments, another element of this description stands out. The trumpets are to be an ordinance forever, throughout your generations. And yet, of all the images that arise in Jewish tradition from the physical elements that God commands to be made, these trumpets are almost forgotten. Torah scrolls are decorated with ornaments that recall the vestments of the High Priest, we see the Ner Tamid, the eternal light placed before the ark in many congregations, the ark itself is a recollection of the tabernacle in the desert, but where are the trumpets?

We are told that the trumpets are to be blown according to specific rules by the sons of Aaron. There is an unspoken assumption here that any of the sons of Aaron would be able to do this, that the skills involved are not unusual. But this seems unlikely. Unlike the shofar, the trumpet is an instrument that would have to be mastered, and some kind of musical skill and understanding that would be handed down from one generation to another. For these silver trumpets truly to be an eternal ordinance, they would have to be played. The trumpets themselves were an artistic creation, but they could only have truly become an ordinance and a heritage through being brought to life by living musical artists.

One of the challenges facing Liberal Judaism today is that of maintaining its musical traditions while at the same time responding to the cultural currents that surround us. Jewish music has always been a living tradition that responded to the surrounding culture but kept alive those elements that made it unique.

Liberal Judaism is moving forward on a number of initiatives which will help each of our congregations, as well as our entire movement, to strengthen our commitment to the music we love while at the same time opening up opportunities to enrich it. The first of these is a concert called “A Festival of Song,” which will be held at Southgate Progressive Synagogue on 1 September. Cantor Gershon Siins, guitarist and singer Dean Staker, and pianist Franklyn Gellnick will present a program of liturgical music for Liberal congregations.

The concert will provide a taste of the variety of music available to our congregations. We are also planning a recording, as well as musical publications, which provide additional resources, to provide a living archive of the music we know and love, as well as music from many other sources near and far.

In addition to these developments, I am available to provide advice and ideas to congregations and communities that are part of Liberal Judaism. Call or email the LJ office to get in touch with me to find out more about how we can work together to enrich our musical life.