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Unscrolled Beha’alotcha: Rejoice with Trembling

Published: in Jewish News by .

Rocket sirens double as sirens of remembrance. Technologies of war are repurposed for celebration.

The post Unscrolled Beha’alotcha: Rejoice with Trembling appeared first on Jewish Journal.

The sound of the siren reached me as I sat at my desk working­­­­—a low howl, uncanny but familiar. It seemed to come from all directions, simultaneously far off and near at hand.

Standing up, I hurried to the stairwell, the safest place in my building, and closed the door behind me. Holding my breath, I waited to hear the boom, the sound of the rocket being intercepted by the Iron Dome. I waited for my neighbors to come out and join me in the stairwell. I waited for the ghostly, otherworldly cry of the siren to stop.

But a moment passed and then another, and the boom never came. I realized my mistake. Walking back into my apartment, I crossed over to the balcony and stepped outside. It wasn’t a rocket siren but rather the Memorial Day siren. Looking down at the street below, I saw the city frozen. People stood in stillness, held fast by the siren’s song like creatures caught in amber.

The next day, I was again working when I heard a terrible whoosh—the sound of air tearing like paper. Outside my window, I saw fighter jets cut across the horizon in a perfect triangle formation. They were heading south. South? They disappeared out of sight. Are they going to—

Before I could articulate the thought, they were back, doing loop-de-loops on their way up the coast. As they went, each one ejected a single firework—a little glowing star that drifted toward the ground before disappearing.

Oh right, I thought, slapping myself on the forehead. Independence Day. It was the air show.

I no longer live in Israel, but I recalled these two moments of disorientation when studying this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Be’haalotcha, in which God commands Moses to create two silver trumpets to be blown when the Israelites are under attack from an aggressor or when observing sacred dates.

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For two radically different kinds of occasion, God has commissioned a single instrument. The same trumpets that will call the people to war will inaugurate their festivals.

So it is in Israel to this day. Rocket sirens double as sirens of remembrance. Technologies of war are repurposed for celebration.

So it is in Israel to this day. Rocket sirens double as sirens of remembrance. Technologies of war are repurposed for celebration.

Did the Israelites ever become confused like I did? Did they cry when they ought to have been smiling? Did they cower when they ought to have been standing? Did they draw their weapons when they ought to have been celebrating? In years of peace, did they forget the associations of violence and loss? In years of war, did every blast quicken their pulse and make their blood go cold? Did the trumpet’s cry create a sort of synesthesia—a mixing up of the senses and a tying together of what should be separate?

Joy and sorrow.

Pride and guilt.

Wholeness and grief.

As it is written: “Serve the Lord with fear, rejoice with trembling.” (Psalms 2:11)

At the sounding of the silver trumpets, was it possible to do anything else?


Matthew Schultz is the author of the essay collection “What Came Before” (2020). He is a rabbinical student at Hebrew College in Newton, Massachusetts.

The post Unscrolled Beha’alotcha: Rejoice with Trembling appeared first on Jewish Journal.

Source: Jewish Journal https://jewishjournal.com/judaism/337092/unscrolled-behaalotcha-rejoice-with-trembling/

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