The Torah in Parashat Behaalotekha (10:1-10) presents the mitzva of sounding the chatzotzerot (trumpets) on various occasions. Specifically, the trumpets were to be sounded in the wilderness to assemble the people or to announce that the nation was embarking, and in Eretz Yisrael, they were to be sounded on the festivals, when the special sacrifices were offered, and in times of warfare. The Rambam, in Sefer Ha-mitzvot (asei 59), lists as one of the 613 Biblical commands the requirement to sound the chatzotzerot on the festivals and during periods of crisis, such as warfare. (Consistent with his view that temporary commands, which were relevant to only a particular period, are not included in the 613 Biblical commands, the Rambam does not mention the obligation to sound trumpets during the period when Benei Yisrael traveled in the wilderness.)
The Magen Avraham (576) raised the question of why the mitzva of chatzotzerot is not observed nowadays during periods of crisis. Although we obviously cannot fulfill the obligation to sound trumpets when the festival sacrifices are being offered, there seems to be no reason not to sound them during times of crisis. Among the numerous answers given to this question is the answer suggested by Rav Moshe Feinstein, in his Iggerot Moshe (O.C. 1:169). Rav Moshe notes that the Rambam, curiously, groups together the two different occasions when the chatzotzerot were sounded – during the festival offerings, and during times of warfare and other crises. Many writers have raised the question of why the Rambam incorporated both obligations – which apply in very different situations – into a single mitzva. Regardless, Rav Moshe infers from the Rambam’s classification that these two requirements are mutually dependent on one another. Specifically, he claims that the same trumpets used in the Mikdash during the festivals must be used during times of crisis. If so, then we easily understand why the obligation to sound the chatzotzerot during times of crisis is not observed nowadays, as we cannot observe the obligation to sound chatzotzerot in the Beit Ha-mikdash.
A possible early source for Rav Moshe’s theory is the Ritva’s comment (Ta’anit 12) that the chatzotzerot are no longer blown for the simple reason that we do not have chatzotzerot. Though this explanation may sound simple, it is, in fact, quite difficult to understand. Why do we not simply make chatzotzerot so we can fulfill this Torah obligation? Rav Asher Weiss (Minchat Asher, Behaalotekha, 19) suggested that in light of Rav Moshe’s theory, we might explain the Ritva to mean that since we do not have chatzotzerot in the Temple, we cannot fulfill the obligation to sound chatzotzerot during times of crisis, as the same chatzotzerot must be used in both contexts.
We might add that Rav Moshe’s theory may perhaps shed light on the fundamental nature of the mitzva of chatzotzerot. According to Rav Moshe, this mitzva in a sense bridges the gap between two opposite experiences: the jubilant festivities in the Beit Ha-mikdash, and the tense-ridden atmosphere of warfare and other dire crises. On Yom Tov, the nation assembled in the Mikdash to celebrate their relationship with God; the most distant situation from this celebration is the battlefield, where the soldiers feel frightened and when the nation feels estranged from God, who allowed the dire crisis to unfold. The requirement to use the same trumpets in both contexts perhaps reflects the message conveyed by this mitzva, namely, that we must try to maintain our faith and positive outlook even during life’s difficult and challenging moments. The chatzotzerot served to help inject some of the joyous spirit and energy of the Yom Tov experience in the Mikdash into the tension and gloom of crisis. This mitzva calls upon us to find comfort during periods of crisis knowing that we are God’s servants who are under His loving and devoted care. Even when circumstances prevent us from experiencing the special joy of the Beit Ha-mikdash, the chatzotzerot remind us to reflect upon our close connection to the Almighty even when He seems distant, and to thereby ease, if only somewhat, our anxiety and angst during life’s more difficult moments.