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Behaalotcha 5764

By: Rav Michael Susman

This shiur is dedicated to the memory of Chaya Rivka Bat Yitzchak Shalom, mother of our current student Sarah and bogeret Aviva.
May the family be comforted amongst the mourners of Zion and Yerushalayim.
In this week's Parsha, we find two of the most famous passukim in the Torah, Vayhi bnsoa haAron"and U'Vnucho yomar" (10:35-36). These two passukim, which we recite each time we remove the Sefer Torah from the aron as well as each time we return it to the ark, are distinguished by a unique symbol, two upside down letter nuns, which offset them from the parshiot which precede and follow them.
Rashi (35), quoting the Gemara in Shabbat (115b-116a) tells us that the Torah places these symbols here in order to alert us to the fact that these passukim do not belong here. Rather, the Gemara tells us, they should appear after passuk 21, where the Torah describes the beginning of the march by the various encampments. Why then does the Torah place the passukim here? In order to separate between one tragic event and another ("kdei l'hafsik bein puranot l'puranot"), answers the Gemara.
The obvious problem here is that while the passukim following ours relate various negative events (see perek 11), there is none that appears in the passukim preceding ours. Interestingly, Rashi does not address this question here, though he does in his commentary on the Gemara in Shabbat. There, commenting on the Gemara's statement that the first event is alluded to in the passuk "Vayisu mei har Hashem derech sloshet yamim, "And they journeyed from the mountain of Hashem a distance of three days", (s.v. Meacharei Hashem) Rashi says that it was within this three day period that the rabble (asafsuf) began to agitate for meat. (This is probably not what some of you seem to remember Rashi saying).
The Ramban quotes Rashi and asks the next obvious question, namely that the story of the demand for meat in fact comes after the first negative event described in perek 11 (beginning with passuk 4). The Ramban suggests that perhaps Rashi understood that the asafsuf began to contemplate the demand for meat during the first three days of the travels, but that it only broke out into the open several days later. The Ramban, however, dismisses this explanation as unsatisfactory ("ein bazeh taam o'reayach"). Instead, the Ramban suggests, based on the Midrash Yilamdeinu, that the first negative act was Bnei Yisrael's unbridled haste to leave Har Sinai, "k'tinok haboreach m'beit hasefer". (This is the answer many of you probably remember). Bnei Yisrael, says the Ramban, were so afraid that should they hang around Har Sinai any longer they might be saddled with even more mitzvot. Hence, they moved away from Har Sinai as quickly as possible. Tosafot in Shabbat (s.v. Puranot) answers in a similar fashion.
The Ramban addresses two connected questions in his commentary as well. Firstly, the Ramban explains that we should not understand the Gemara as trying to avoid describing two negative events in succession. To understand the Gemara that way is obviously problematic, since the Torah does in fact do so (see perek 11 1-3, the story of the mitoninim, and then 4 onward). Rather the Gemara suggests that the Torah wishes to avoid describing three such events in succession, since that would constitute a "Chazaka", an ingrained pattern that cannot be easily broken. Beyond that, the Ramban shows that the definition of "puranot" need not be an event which carries with it a direct punishment as a result of the negative behavior. Rather, any sin which has negative consequences (in this case ultimately causing a delay in Bnei Yisrael's entering into Eretz Yisrael) would qualify.
It is worth noting that another answer exists to the question of how many puranot are related in succession by the Torah. The mishna in Pirkei Avot (5:4) states that Bnei Yisrael tested Hashem ten times in the desert. After quoting the commentary of the Bartenura which lists the ten nisyonot, the Tosefot Yom Tov asks why the mitoninim is not included in the Bartenura's count. He answers that the mitoninim and the complaint of the asafsuf (which the Bartenura does count) are in fact the same incident and are therefore not listed separately. This, of course, removes the question before it even begins.
It is possible to use the questions that the Ramban answers to understand why Rashi prefers to explain that the first of the puranot was the complaint of the asafsuf. According to Rashi we can continue to accept the simpler reading of the Gemara, namely that the Torah did not wish to relate even a pair of negative events one after the other. Since the genesis of the story of the desire for meat preceded the passukim of "Vayhi bnsoa", the fact that the full story is related after the first negative incident (hamitoninim) is but a literary device. The true impact of the story is when it begins. Further, according to Rashi we can maintain the more common definition of "puranot" as being an event with negative consequences being a clear result of the negative behavior.
Interestingly, Rashi and the Ramban totally ignore a different explanation of why these two passukim are separted which is discussed in the Gemara. The Gemara suggests that these two passukim represent an entirely independent sefer of the Torah. This position, put forward by Rebbe, suggests that in fact there are not five but seven books in the Torah. The Gemara finds an illusion in Mshlei to this idea, quoting the passuk (Mishlei 9:1) "Chochma bonta beita, chatzva amudeha shiva" ("Wisdom has built her house, it has hewn her seven pillars"). Says the Gemara, quoting Rabbi Yonatan, "(these seven pillars) are the seven books of the Torah." According to this, we have Breishit, Shmot, Vayikra, Bamidbar up until 10:34, Bamidbar 10:35-36, Bamdibar 11-36, and Devarim for a total of seven books.
What makes the lack of recognition of this opinion even more puzzling is the fact that it appears that the Gemara accepts this option! When discussing the idea of ritual impurity caused by contact with sifrei kodesh, the Gemara quotes the idea that the minimum size of a passage necessary to be considered a "book" is eighty five letters, the number of letters in our combined passukim. Furthermore, the final mishna in the third perek of mishnayot Yadayim reports this statement as a stam mishna, meaning that it is accepted l'halacha. Thus, it appears that Rebbe's opinion is accepted. (I have not found an answer to this question; suggestions are welcome).
In order for these two passukim to be considered an independent sefer, we must ask what conceptual message is contained within them that would confer such a status upon them. Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch suggests that these passukim sum up no less than the history and mission of Am Yisrael. As we see in the passukim, Moshe speaks after the Aron has moved, not before. His words do not command the ark to move or rest, but rather reaffirm the movement that Hashem has ordained. This represents Moshe's full acceptance of Hashem's dictates, an acceptance so complete that it is if it was Moshe's own command. Such complete identification with Hashem's motives is the epitome of what our mission is to be.
This movement of the Aron will of course be met with resistance, from enemies ("oiyvecha") and those who hate the message of the Torah ("misonecha"). The demands that the Torah makes for a just society will of course be opposed by those who stand to lose power and influence. The demands that the Torah makes on us as individuals to act morally and with self control will of course be opposed by those who wish to behave in a more wanton fashion. What Moshe envisions is a society where Torah values will ultimately triumph, both on the individual and on the national level. And what message is more deserving of its own sefer than that?
Shabbat Shalom

 

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