Two topics are to be found in the part of the portion that we read this Shabbat; two topics that are interconnected.
The first aliyah that we will read, describes the cloud that covered the mishkan – the tabernacle - once its construction was completed. Symbolic of God’s presence, the cloud covered the mishkan by day and appeared like fire at night. Thus God was always to be seen amongst the people in the centre of the camp. When it was time to leave, the cloud would lift and move forward and the people would follow. This could happen day or night; the minute the cloud lifted it was time to journey on. But, without notice – would there not have been a danger that intent on their daily affairs, the people would not be looking towards the tabernacle at the critical time and so miss the signal? Was it possible that the cloud would leave without them?
This is where the second subject in our part of the portion fits in. Silver trumpets. These were made with the express intention of alerting the people to impending movement. At the first sound of the trumpet, - a tekiah all the people would gather at the tent of meeting. If an alarm were sounded – a teruah – then that would be the sign that the camps were to move forward – at the first teruah – the easternmost part of the camp would move forward, at the second, the southern most part. You may miss the silent movement of the cloud from covering the tabernacle, but whatever you were doing, you couldn’t miss the sound of the trumpets.
Thus the movement of the camp, following God through the desert depended on seeing and on hearing. Seeing the manifestation of the Divine in the presence of a cloud and hearing the sound of silver trumpets blown by very human effort. This partnership between God’s manifestation and human activity typifies an idea that runs throughout Jewish thought: that God and God’s people work in partnership.
Shabbat is brought in each week by two actions: the setting of the sun and the saying of kiddush. One is brought about by the Divine order of the universe, the other by the utterance of human words. Over the cup of wine, we are the ones that make the Sabbath holy. In the same manner in the days when the Temple stood, the start of a new month required not only the appearance of the New Moon in the sky, but for people to see it and for the High Priest – announced by silver trumpets – to declare the new month to have begun. A Jewish boy is circumcised according to tradition because, though born by the miracle of God giving life and undoubtedly beautiful, it requires the human act of milah to make the child perfect in the eyes of God. It is this attitude that informs our understanding of both creation and the messianic age. God created the world, but the expectation is that we human beings will perfect it. God created Gan Eden - the Garden of Eden but then set Adam in it to tend it and keep it. Without the human Adam, the Garden would not flourish. Without us, God’s intention cannot be brought about in the world.
Edmond Fleg Wrote,
‘I am a Jew, because for Israel the world is not yet complete, men are completing it.’ Tikkun Olam is our charge; repairing the world, creating Eden again. A hard task and a long road that stretches back to Sinaii and the expectation brought about by those first calls of the silver trumpets.