Did you kow that kohanim have a mitzvah (commandment) to blow silver trumpets in times of joy and calamity?
The mitzvah to kohanim to sound silver trumpets is a positive mitzvah commanding kohanim to sound silver trumpets at the time of sacrifices in the bet hamikdash and at any time the children of Israel are faced with a calamity.
Source of the mitzvah
The source of the mitzvah is found in the torah in פרשת בהעלותך;
וַיְדַבֵּר ה’ אֶל משֶׁה לֵּאמר..וּבְנֵי אַהֲרן הַכהֲנִים יִתְקְעוּ בַּחֲצצְרוֹת וְהָיוּ לָכֶם לְחֻקַּת עוֹלָם לְדרתֵיכֶם
And hashem spoke to Moshe saying..and the sons of Ahron the kohanim will sound the trumpets and it will be to you as an everlasting statute for your generations
Targum yerushalmi (בראשית נ,א) writes that at the time of the passing of Yakov avinu in Egypt, with his son Yosef present, Yehuda lamented how the kohanim –as descendants of Yaakov– will at a future time sound their silver trumpets.
Times to be sounded
At the daily offering of the korban olah, the kohanim are commanded to sound their trumpets in the בית המקדש in proximity to the table where the korban fats are temporarily placed. They are likewise commanded to sound their trumpets in times of communal strife where the community is seeking heavenly deliverance –for example a time of war. (Sefer HaChinuch, Rambam)
Rabbi Akivah says that in times of agriculture calamity, if a ship is in distress at sea, and even if a single woman is having difficulty during childbirth –in any and all types of calamity– kohanim are to sound their silver trumpets.
The torah writes that the sounding of the silver trumpets by the kohanim awakens a favorable remembrance on behalf of בני ישראל before הקדוש ברוך הוא and thus ensures a pleasant deliverance.
As all duties performed by kohanim, the silver trumpets are sounded only during the daytime.
In the times of Ezra
At the time of the building of בית המקדש השני (the second temple), Sefer Ezra mentions the kohanim sounding their silver trumpets at the initiating ceremony;
וַיַּעֲמִידוּ הַכהֲנִים מְלֻבָּשִׁים בַּחֲצצְרוֹת וְהַלְוִיִּם בְּנֵי אָסָף בַּמְצִלְתַּיִם לְהַלֵּל אֶת ה’ עַל יְדֵי דָּוִיד מֶלֶךְ יִשְׂרָאֵל
And they placed the kohanim en-clothed with their trumpets and the levi’im sons of Assaf with their cymbals to give praise to hashem..
This posuk stands out as it likens the silver trumpet as a “garment” of the kohanim. There, Rashi comments that the silver trumpet is “the” musical instrument of the kohanim.
How it looked
The talmud specifies the the trumpets used by the kohanim are required to be all-silver, and construction with another metal is invalid (even בדיעבד, –post facto), from here it is inferred that the trumpets used by the kohanim did not have valves as silver is deemed too “hard” by silversmiths to use for trumpet valving.
During chag sukkot of the hakhel year (the year following the shmittah year), when the king would read from the sefer torah, the kohanim would be present with trumpets of gold. (Tosefta, sotah 7:8)
Number of trumpeters
The talmud quotes that no less than two kohanim be present to sound their trumpets, and no more than 120 kohanim at maximum. An alternate opinion is that there is no limit to the maximum number of kohanim.
Sounding by a non-kohen
The sifri writes and most opinions agree that only kohanim are given the duty of sounding silver trumpets. The Rambam writes that at times the leviim (levites) would sound trumpets in the mikdash (temple).
In the absence of the Bet HaMikdash
Of the rishonim, the Rambam specifies that the mitzvah of kohanim to sound their silver trumpets is applicable at times of strife. As well, many rishonim understand from the talmud that the mitzvah is applicable independent of the bet hamikdash1)1.
Sefer HaChinuch specifies “אם לא תקעו בשעת הצרה בטלו עשה זו” –if they (the kohanim) don’t blow at a time of calamity, they’ve neglected this positive mitzvah.
Of the achronim, some poskim (magen avraham, be’er hetev to shulchan aruch orach chayyim 576:1, and even the rishon המאור הקטן to the ר“ן on tractate rosh hashana p. 6a) question why the kohanim ceased to sound their silver trumpets since the destruction of the second temple.
There are poskim (נתיב חיים to shulchan aruch orach chayyim 576:1) who write that the mitzvah is applicable on fast days and at times of strife only in the land of Israel and not חוצה לארץ –outside of Israel.
At the final redemption
The sifri (במדבר י,ט) writes how the verse ונושעתם מאיביכם refers to the final deliverance from the armies of גוג ומגוג where the kohanim will sound their silver trumpets at the complete and final deliverance from all oppressors of בני ישראל.
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