Beha’alosecha 5777

Running like schoolchildren[1]

׆ ויהי בנסע הארן ויאמר משה קומה יקוק ויפצו איביך וינסו משנאיך מפניך: ובנחו יאמר שובה יקוק רבבות אלפי ישראל: ׆
When the Ark would travel, Moshe would say: “Rise Hashem, may Your enemies scatter, may the ones who hate You flee before You.” When [the Ark] would rest he would say: “Rest Hashem, Israel’s myriads of thousands”.[2]

In a standard sefer Torah, and in most standard chumashim, these two verses are surrounded by inverted letter-nuns. What are they doing here? The gemarra notes[3] that Hashem placed signs[4] before and after these verses. There are two opinions why. Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel (Rashbag) says it’s to teach us that these two verses don’t belong here[5]. After the final redemption, they will be returned to where they belong, with the descriptions of the travel formations of the tribes[6]. Why then are the verses here? They are in order to create an interruption between the first punishments and second punishments (which will be explained shortly)[7]. Rebbe disagrees and says that it’s to teach us that these two verses are considered an independent book. In reality Rebbe doesn’t believe there are five books of the Torah, rather there are seven[8]. Meaning, he feels these two verses are in their proper place[9].

According to Rashbag, what does it mean the signs are to interrupt between two punishments? The gemarra says[10] the second punishment was from the episode of ויהי העם כמתאננים, the people sought to find complaints against Hashem[11]. As a result of the people’s unwarranted complaints, there was a fire that broke out and damaged the camp[12]. What was the first punishment? The gemarra says it was the episode of ויסעו מהר יקוק, they traveled from the Mountain of Hashem. The gemarra explains that it means that they turned away from Hashem. What is this referring to? Rashi says[13] that it’s referring to the episode of the אספסוף, the band of troublemakers that got the people to complain to Hashem about the manna and to start craving meat[14]. As a result, the people were inflicted with a terrible punishment[15]. Tosafos ask13 on Rashi that his explanation makes the gemarra backwards. The episode of the אספסוף happened after the episode of the מתאננים, yet the gemarra says the מתאננים was the second episode. Therefore, they give a different explanation. Instead, ויסעו מהר יקוק is referring to the verse right before the inverted nun, which describes the Jews leaving Mount Sinai[16]. They bring a Midrash that says[17] that the Jews joyfully[18] ran away from Mount Sinai like kids who run away from school[19]. They were worried that if they stuck around Mount Sinai any longer, they’d be given more laws and taught more Torah.

It comes out that according to Tosafos there are three episodes involving punishments[20]. First is the running away from Mount Sinai, then the מתאננים, then the אספסוף. There’s no interruption between the latter two episodes; what was accomplished by putting the nuns between the first two? The Ramban explains[21] it was to avoid having three punishments in a row without a break. Otherwise the Jews would have been muchzak with punishments. He’s employing the legal term chazakah, where if something occurs three times in a row, it’s assumed to occur frequently[22]. To avoid the Jews having an assumed reality of punishments, the Torah interrupted the three episodes with the two nuns[23].

The Ramban, however, is bothered with this approach. How could the first punishment be referring to the episode of the Jews running away from Mount Sinai? There isn’t any punishment mentioned in the verses; it only describes their sin[24]. He writes that the explanation could be that if they hadn’t committed this sin, the Jews would have entered the land of Israel immediately. Instead, they had to travel a three-day journey, which led to their complaints, which was followed by a series of further sins culminating in the decree to wander in the desert for forty years. All of this happened because they ran away from the Torah.

What is the Midrash conveying by comparing the Jews running away from Mount Sinai to children joyfully running away from school? It’s normal for kids to run away from school. A kid who loves school so much that they don’t want to leave, you’d wonder if theyre right in the head. Why is it normal for them? Because school in their eyes is torture. They’re not interested in learning, because they don’t realize the importance of what’s being taught to them. The moment there’s freedom, that’s the good, and the learning is the bad. Demonstrating this point, Rabbi Beryl Wein used to say that it’s such a shame that education is wasted on children. This is all true because they’re a child. If they were an adult, they would realize it’s the exact opposite. The learning is the good, and the sitting around doing nothing is the bad. The Midrash isn’t emphasizing the running away; they were told to leave Mount Sinai by Hashem! It’s emphasizing the child aspect. The Jews didn’t realize the importance of what they were experiencing[25]. They were doing the exact same thing that a child does when they run away from school.

This is something to always keep in mind. Sometimes things that we are experiencing aren’t always enjoyable; they aren’t always what we’d rather be doing. However, after some thought, it could become clear that in the long run it’s the best thing to involved in. Sometimes life’s most enjoyable activities are the ones that are hard. Growth usually comes through adversity. But that’s what makes it all worthwhile.

Good Shabbos

[1] Based on a shiur given by Rabbi Elimelech Reznick in 5775

[2] Numbers 10:35-36

[3] Shabbos 115b, 116a

[4] Hebrew: simaniyos. The gemarra doesn’t mention what is the sign, and as stated what we have in our sifrei Torah are inverted nuns surrounding the parshiyos. It’s interesting to note that the Maharshal (Chochmas Shlomo ad. loc.; Teshuvos Maharshal § 73) disagrees, and rules that if you have extra inverted nuns in your sefer Torah, it makes the whole scroll invalid. Instead he suggests that either the spaces before and after the parshiyos are the signs that the gemarra is referring to, or the nuns of certain words themselves are inverted. The Noda B’Yehudah I Yoreh De’ah § 74 strongly disagrees. He brings evidence from Rav Hai Gaon (quoted by Maggid Mishnah to Mishneh Torah Hilchos Shabbos 11:10) that the signs are two inverted nuns and not unnecessary spacing surrounding the parshiyos. He also says its more problematic to invert letters of actual words than to add extra nuns before and after. Our custom follows this opinion

[5] Rabbeinu Bachaye to Numbers 10:35 explains according to this opinion why the sign is specifically the letter nun. He says if you count the number of parshiyos from Numbers 2:17 (where this parsha really belongs according to Rashbag) to 10:35 to you’ll find there are fifty, the numeral value of nun (this ends up being another proof for the Noda B’Yehudah, although he doesn’t cite it). An explanation that could work for Rebbe is mentioned by the Maharam Shif to Shabbos loc. cit., who says it’s the Torah’s version of parentheses (סוגרייות)

[6] Numbers Chapter 2. It’s not so clear why these verses are considered out of place and belong more over there. There the Torah describes how the various tribes were situated while they were traveling and where they encamped. Here, at the beginning of this chapter (10), the Torah described their first journey. This seemingly would be a fine place to mention what would happen when they started traveling

[7] Rashi to Numbers 10:35 brings only this opinion and not the opinion of Rebbe

[8] Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, the first half of Numbers, these two verses, the last half of Numbers, Deuteronomy

[9] Surprisingly, there are laws derived from Rebbe’s opinion. The minimum number of letters needed to be on a sefer Torah to save it from a fire on Shabbos is eighty-five (Shabbos 115b). As well, Yadayim 3:5 says that only a sefer Torah with eighty-five letters on it impurifies the hands of those who touch it. Where does the number eighty-five come from? It’s the number of letters in the two verses we’re discussing, which according to Rebbe is the smallest book in Tanach. Something with eighty-five letters is considered a book which gets these laws

[10] Loc. cit.

[11] Numbers 11:1-3

[12] Ibid v. 3

[13] Shabbos loc. cit.

[14] Numbers 11:4-35

[15] Ibid v. 33

[16] Numbers 10:33

[17] Brought in Yalkut Shimoni § 729. See Torah Sheleimah to Numbers Chapter 10 § 110. See also Yerushalmi Taanis 4:5

[18] Translated in accordance with the version of the Midrash that the Ramban to Numbers 10:35 has.

[19] The Maharsha to Shabbos loc. cit. explains how the Midrash got this from the verse. Only when Mount Sinai was being used for national revelation was it referred to as the Mountain of Hashem. Afterwards it reverted back to being a regular mountain. The verse should have said they journeyed from Mount Sinai, or simply the mountain. The reason the verse calls it the Mountain of Hashem is to hint to the fact that they were really trying to run away from Hashem

[20] See Tosafos Yom Tov to Avos 5:4 who proves from various sources that the episodes of the מתאננים and אספסוף were really the same one and not two different events, avoiding the issue that follows

[21] Loc. cit.

[22] The Chasam Sofer (Chasam Sofer Al HaTorah to Numbers 10:35, Chiddushei Chasam Sofer to Gittin 60a s.v. לפי שאין) points out that Rashbag is consistent with his opinion in Yevamos 64b regarding chazakah that it happens after three occurrences. As well, Rebbe is consistent with his opinion that chazakah occurs after only two occurrences. Consequently, according to him, nothing was accomplished by putting the nuns around the verses. He therefore argues with Rashbag and gives his above-mentioned interpretation

[23] We see a tremendous principle in this Ramban. He’s suggesting that how the verses are written in the Torah affect the reality of the Jewish people. If it’s written in the Torah three punishments in a row, that has real life consequences. This is an extension of the idea of הסתכל באורייתא וברא עלמא, that Hashem looked into the Torah and created the world (Bereishis Rabbah 1:1; Midrash Tanchuma Bereishis § 1; Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer Chapter 3; Tanna D’Vei Eliyahu Chapter 31), that this world is a reflection of the Torah

[24] The Rosh ad. loc. asks this question, and brings the above cited Midrash that they ran away from Hashem and the Torah. He says they traveled back “eight journeys”, and  a result, Hashem punished them by having many people die. The Chasam Sofer (Derashos II p. 311b s.v. כתיב, Sefer HaZicharon p. 52) asks this question as well and gives his own answer. He writes that unlike other sins, where the punishment awaits for a later time, a person who neglects Torah study is in fact directly hurting himself. Therefore, the sin itself is the punishment (see there where he goes into detail about what this means). He invokes Avos 3:5 that says whoever removes the yoke of Torah from himself is given the yoke of malchus. He interprets this to mean foreign invaders, and uses this to explain why specifically these two verses were used to create the interruption. He writes that Moshe sensed that the Jews were in danger due to their lack of desire to learn Torah, so he immediately prayed “let your enemies scatter, etc.”

[25] Rav Shimon Schwab says this is the punishment that the gemarra is referring to. Not to feel full satisfaction and enjoyment from spirituality, there’s no worse punishment than that. The Chasam Sofer (loc. cit.) says more, that because they were lacking this satisfaction, they sought satisfaction from elsewhere. Inevitably this led to their complaints and to their craving meat. In other words, this episode of punishment caused the other two episodes to occur. This could explain Rashi, who seems to leave out the whole idea of the Jews running away from Mount Sinai. It could be that Rashi agrees that it was the cause of the other two, just that it itself isn’t considered an episode of punishment