Shabbat Behaalotecha 5778


"The Seven Books of the Torah"

Dvar Torah From Rabbi Saul I. Grife

Parshat HaShavuah, the Torah portion of the week is Behaalotecha, Numbers 8:1 through 12:16. Behaalotecha means "when you light", referring to the lighting of the Temple's menorah by Aaron and his sons, the Kohanim (priests). The Torah tells us that seven lamps were lit and constantly burned to provide spiritual light and guidance for our ancestors. If you look at our beautiful new wall menorot on our bima, you will see that they boast seven lamps like those found in the ancient Temple. Many of us are more familiar with the singular menorot called Hanukkiyot which are comprised of nine lamps - one for each of the eight days of Hanukkah along with the shammas or helper candle. These two menorot are not to be confused with each other. Therefore, remember this: every Hanukkiya is a menorah but not every menorah is a Hanukkiya!I hope this helps to eradicate any confusion.

Ask anyone how many books are in the Torah and you would expect to receive an answer of five: Bereshit (Genesis), Shemot (Exodus), Vayikra (Leviticus), Bemidbar (Numbers) and Devarim (Deuteronomy). Chamisha chumshey Torah, we sing at the Seder - there are five books in the Torah. Are there really seven books in the Torah? From whence does this notion arrive?

The Talmud in Shabbat 116a teaches...Numbers 10:35-36 constitutes a book on its own. R. Shmuel bar Nahmani said in the name of R. Yochanan: "She hath hewn out her seven pillars (Proverbs 9:1). These are the 7 books of the Pentateuch, according to Rabbi Judah HaNasi, the compiler of our Mishnah.

In this week's parsha, chapter 10:35-36 tells us that, "Whenever the Ark of the Lord set out, Moshe said, 'Arise O Lord, and let your enemies be scattered and let those who hate You flee before You.' And when the Ark of the Lord rested, Moshe said, 'Return, O Lord, to the ten thousand thousands of Israel'".

These 2 pesukim (verses) are familiar to so many of us in the Hebrew. Verse 35 begins, "Vayihee binsoa HaAron..."; this verse is sung as we open the ark before the withdrawal and reading of the Torah. Verse 36 begins, "Uvinucho yomar..."; this verse is sung as we open the ark to replace the Torah; a verse that leads into the singing of "Etz Chayim he... The Torah is a Tree of Life to them that hold fast to it".

What is not as familiar is that in the Torah, these 2 pesukim are enclosed by a pair of inverted Nuns (not ministering Christian women, but the 14th letter of the Hebrew alphabet). Biblical scholar John Parsons relates that "according to some Jewish sages, this passage of the Bible actually demarcates a separate book of the Torah. Therefore, instead of the five Books of Moses we have seven: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers 1:1-10:34, Numbers 10:35-36 (these 2 verses about the Ark's movements), Numbers 10:37- 36:13 and Deuteronomy." This opinion is based on the Talmud (Shabbat 115b-116a) that states that any part of the Torah with 85 or more letters can itself considered a book unto itself. Other sages opine that the reason for the presence of the Nuns is that as the Gematriya, or numerical equivalent of the letter nun is 50, this teaches us that this passage is chronologically out of place; it should have been inserted 50 verses earlier. Parsons argues that this book is short and remains unfinished because of the "sin of the spies", namely that as a group they lacked faith in their ability to conquer Canaan as God promised they would. "What should have been written is that the Lord entered the land with the redeemed Israelites on account of their faith in His promises. Moses should have directly led the people to Zion. But the desert sins of the people prevented this from occurring".

The question is also asked, "Why are the Nuns inverted?" The Talmud in Yoma 54a teaches that the Nuns represent the cherubs, or angels that hovered over the Ark. When the Jewish people did what was right, the angels faced one another. When they sinned, the faces of the angels turned away. Right after we learn that the Ark rested, the Torah tells us (Numbers 11:1) that the people complained bitterly against God, thereby displeasing the Lord. Therefore, the Nuns are inverted as a symbol of God's displeasure with the community.

As a student of philosophy who appreciates the multitude of ways of viewing Torah and the world, I am moved and intrigued by the notion of identifying 7 books of Torah as opposed to the traditional 5. Perhaps there are even more "books" to Torah. If as the Talmud teaches - any section of Torah that contains over 85 letters can be construed as a separate entity or book - perhaps the stories of the patriarchs and matriarchs should also be identified individually. Perhaps every new story in the Torah should introduce a new book. While I am traditionally satisfied with the number 5, nevertheless it remains an exciting mitzvah to constantly look at the Torah with fresh eyes to gather inspiration, wisdom and new insights.

Even though the Torah was written a long time ago, we continue to write Torah in a broad sense by perpetuating the ongoing saga of the Jewish people. This week, when we look upon the inverted Nuns, let us remember that throughout our history we have done things that have been displeasing to God and to ourselves. Perhaps we can flip the Nuns and things around by doing mitzvoth and Tikkun Olam, effecting individual and world repair. Wouldn't it be wonderful if one day we were able to emend these Nuns so that they faced in the right direction, symbolic of our efforts to do that which is right before God and ourselves? I am reminded of the moving words of Anne Frank, who said, "Isn't it wonderful that one need not wait even one moment to improve the world!"

May the teachings of Parshat Behaalotecha move us to try to act justly and mercifully to heal the world's wounds and re-invert those Nuns to the way they perhaps should be!  

Shabbat Shalom to all!




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