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Parashat B’ha-alot’cha (Numbers 8:1-12:16)

“You shall place the Levites in attendance upon Aaron and his sons,
and designate them as an elevation offering to the Lord.” (Numbers 8:13)

Parashat B’ha-a lot’cha describes the Israelites’ departure from Mt. Sinai. With much ceremony and fanfare, Moses announces, “…Kuma adonai, …Advance, O Lord! May your enemies be scattered and may your foes flee before you!” And when the procession halts, he says, “… Return, O Lord, You who are Israel’s myriads of thousands.” (Num. 10:35-36) These verses are familiar because they open and close every synagogue Torah service. A graphic anomaly accompanies them in the Torah: an inverted letter nun precedes and follows.

Rav Shmuel bar Nachmani (~3rd – 4th Century CE; rabbi of the Talmudic era,) claims the two nun “brackets” designate the two verses as a separate text, and divide Numbers into three books. The verse, “Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn her seven pillars.” (Prov. 9:1) is the prooftext supporting his surprising conclusion the Torah comprises not five, but seven books (Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 116a)! This parallels the seven days of creation (and the seven days of construction of the mishkan, or tabernacle).

Rabbi Amy Scheinerman (teacher, speaker, hospice rabbi and past President of the Baltimore Board of Rabbis) pushes this idea further. If the Torah has five books, Leviticus, which commands strict obedience to the fixed sacrificial rite, is its heart. If the Torah has seven books, though, these two verses are the balance point. These verses declare mutuality and reciprocity: God encourages and leads while Israel also encourages while seeking direction. Rather than stasis, the verses both describe and prescribe forward motion. The essence of the Torah becomes change: an unexpected journey to an imagined destination with the Torah as a compass.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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