Beha’alosecha 5780

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Turning curses into blessings[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. Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel explains this was 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?

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Chukas 5777

The waters of strife[1]

ולא-היה מים לעדה ויקהלו על-משה ועל-אהרן: וידבר יקוק אל-משה לאמר: קח את-המטה והקהל את-העדה אתה ואהרן אחיך ודברתם אל-הסלע לעיניהם ונתן מימיו והוצאת להם מים מן-הסלע והשקית את-העדה ואת-בעירם: ויקהלו משה ואהרן את-הקהל אל-פני הסלע ויאמר להם שמעו-נא המרים המן-הסלע הזה נוציא לכם מים: וירם משה את-ידו ויך את-הסלע במטהו פעמים ויצאו מים רבים ותשת העדה ובעירם: ויאמר יקוק אל-משה ואל-אהרן יען לא-האמנתם בי להקדישני לעיני בני ישראל לכן לא תביאו את-הקהל הזה אל-הארץ אשר נתתי להם
There wasn’t water for the congregation, and they assembled against Moshe and Aharon…Hashem [then] told Moshe as follows: “Take the staff and assemble the congregation, you and Aharon your brother, and both of you will speak to the rock before their eyes, and it will give forth its water, and you will bring forth water from the rock, and you will quench the congregation and their animals.”…Moshe and Aharon gathered the congregation before the rock and [Moshe] said to them: “Listen now you rebels! Will we bring forth water from this rock?” Moshe raised his arm and hit the rock twice with the staff, and a great amount of water emerged, and the people and their animals drank. Hashem said to Moshe and Aharon: “Since both of you didn’t believe in me, to sanctify my name before the eyes of the Jews, therefore you will not bring this congregation to the land that I have given to them.”[2]

The episode known as “the waters of strife[3]” is one of the most puzzling in the entire Chumash. The verses say explicitly what happened with Moshe and the rock, yet all the commentators struggle to understand what his sin was[4]. Finding an explanation is particularly hard due to the severity of the punishment: not being allowed to bring the people to the land of Israel and to die in the wilderness. As well, it’s hard to find any justification for why Aharon was punished; it seems like he wasn’t involved at all in what happened. There are many approaches to these questions, and they all have their flaws.

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