By Rabbi Aron Tendler
The dawn of a brave new spiritually enlightened world would have broken
over the darkened landscape of past strife and human failings.
The last two Parshios, as well as the first half of this week's Parsha,
described the final preparations necessary for the Bnai Yisroel to enter
Eretz Yisroel. Starting from the beginning of Perek 11, it is clear that
the Jews were not yet ready to leave the protected encampment of the
desert. They were not yet ready to assume the responsibilities of living
"as all other nations". They were not yet ready to live on their own
without the overt miracles of G-d's protection. Consequently, the
relationship between Hashem and the Bnai Yisroel had to undergo a profound
change so that they would remain in the desert and ready themselves to
enter Eretz Yisroel.
The Gemara states that there are really seven books in the Torah, not five:
1) Bereshis, 2) Shemos, 3) Vayikra, 4) the beginning two and a half
Parshios of Bamidbar, 5) the two bracketed Psukim of "When the Ark went
forth," (10:35-36) 6) the rest of Sefer Bamidbar, and 7) Sefer Devarim.
Basically, the Gemara gives the two verses of 10:35 and 36 the importance
of being their own separate book of the Torah.
What is so significant about these two Psukim that the Talmud considers
them a separate "Sefer"? Why are they the only verses in the entire Torah
bracketed between backward, upside-down "Nuns"? (14th letter of the Hebrew
Aleph Bet) Why do we say these two verses whenever the Ark is opened?
The Jews were taken out of Egypt and given the Torah, to be living role
models of what G-d intended humankind to be. The miracles of the Exodus, as
well as the time spent living in the desert, were intended to impact the
consciousness of the Jews with the totality of their dependency upon
Hashem. To the degree that they were able to accept their dependency would
be the degree to which they would listen to G-d and the degree of their
success in fulfilling their mission as Jews.
At the beginning of this week's Parsha, the Bnai Yisroel were poised to
enter the promised land and begin living their national mission. All final
preparations had been completed: the ordering and counting of each tribe,
the placement of each tribe for the grand entrance into Eretz Yisroel, the
positioning of the Leviyim and the Kohanim, and the final instructions for
the care of the Mishkan. The Torah then states the exact day when the
nation began their final trip. "In the second year of the Exodus, on the
20th of the second month..." (10:11) What a moment! The children of Israel
were about to fulfill the 432 year-old promise made to Avraham - "To your
children will I give this land".
The generation of the Exodus was on the threshold of what could have been
the messianic era. Moshe, Aharon, and Miriam would have lead them across
the Yarden. The land would have been captured in 24 hours. Moshe and Aharon
would have built the Bais Hamikdash, and the dawn of a brave, new,
spiritually enlightened, world would have broken over the darkened
landscape of past strife human failings. It was a singular moment in
history for which the previous two years of overt miracles and divine
revelations should have prepared the Bnai Yisroel.
The very final preparation was Moshe's invitation to his father-in-law
Yisro to join them in entering the land. Yisro declined the offer and the
Torah then stated the two bracketed verses of "When the Ark went forth".
Clearly, the juxtaposition of these final verses prior to the Bnai Yisroel
entering the land are of enormous importance, and were intended to be
contrasted with Yisro's refusal to join the Bnai Yisroel in entering Eretz
Rav S. R. Hirsch explains the importance of these two verses. Being that
the national mission in relation to the other nations was to model the
integration of G-d into daily living, and the basis for this integration
was their acceptance that all things were from Hashem; therefore, the Bnai
Yisroel needed a final example and role-model of what it meant to be
totally dependent upon G-d. The two bracketed verses are that example.
The two Pasukim of "When the Ark went forth" at first glance, do not seem
to make sense. Moshe appears to be commanding Hashem to "travel", after the
Ark and the pillar of clouds had already begun to move. Likewise, Moshe
appears to be commanding the Ark to halt, after the pillar of clouds and
the Ark had already come to a stop! What purpose did Moshe's commands serve?
Rav Hirsch explains that these two Pasukim are portraying Moshe as the
ultimate servant of G-d. Moshe was a servant who understood his status as
"the property of his master." Moshe was a servant who loved his master and
would have done everything in his power to fulfill his master's wishes.
Moshe was a servant who put his master's wishes before his own, and
attempted to anticipate his master's commands and wishes before being
This was the manner of Moshe's relationship with Hashem. As the Mishnah in
Avos (2:4) says, "Do the will of G-d as if it were your own." Moshe was so
much the "servant" that G-d's will became his will. Therefore, regardless
of what Moshe was doing at the time that the Ark began to move, Moshe
immediately stopped his activities and began to travel. Likewise, whenever
the Ark came to a stop, regardless of Moshe's thinking that maybe they
should have stopped sooner or later than they had, Moshe stopped.
At first glance, this might not seem so impressive. We might even assume
that under similar circumstances we too would have listened to the will of
G-d no differently than Moshe. However, Moshe's response was significantly
different than ours would have been. Most of us would listen to the command
of Hashem by stopping or going, but still thinking that if it had been up
to us, we would have done it differently. Moshe, regardless of how
inconvenient it was to listen to G-d's commandments, suspended his own
judgment and did as he was told by G-d without the slightest hesitation or
reservation. This is why Moshe appeared to be telling Hashem to travel
after the Ark has already begun to move, and to halt after the Ark had
already stopped. Once Hashem revealed His will to His servant Moshe
listened to it with the same absolute conviction as if it had been his own
We can now appreciate why the Torah separated these two Psukim from the
rest of the Torah with the bracketed "Nuns". As the Bnai Yisroel were about
to enter the land and assume their responsibilities as role models to the
rest of the world, the Torah identified Moshe as the preeminent servant and
role model. The example of Moshe's seemingly unnecessary command to go or
to stop was a living example of the Bnai Yisroel's individual and national
The reason we say these two verses as we take the Torah out of the Ark is
to focus us on the ultimate goal of "making His will as our own"! How many
of us have the attitude that Mitzvos are the only thing we should be doing
at the time the opportunity to do a mitzvah presents itself, or when it is
required of us? Imagine Super Bowl Sunday, and you have to choose between
davening Mincha and watching the most crucial play of the game. How many of
us would forgo davening in order to watch the game? How many of us would
daven reluctantly and Super Sunday fast hoping to do both? How many of us
would embrace the opportunity of speaking to Hashem with complete abandon,
joy, and focus, believing that it was the single most important thing for
us to do at that moment, and ignore the most crucial play of the Super
Bowl? This is why we introduce the reading of the Torah with these Psukim.
It reinforces the proper attitude we should have in relation to G-d's
mitzvos as modeled by Moshe Rabbeinu.
These Psukim are contrasted with Yisro's refusal to join the Bnai Yisroel,
because they are the primary difference between Yisro and Moshe. As we
know, Yisro was a great man who played an indispensable role in Moshe
Rabbeinu's development. Yisro was Moshe's teacher, mentor, advisor, and
father-in-law. Yisro's conversion to a true belief in Hashem was intended
as part of the nation's preparation for enter Eretz Yisroel and becoming
the intended teachers for the other nations. Yet, when Yisro was
confronted with the choice of listening to the word of G-d as spoken by His
servant Moshe, or following the dictates of his own heart and mind, Yisro
elected to follow his own agenda. Yisro did not join Moshe in leading the
Bnai Yisroel; instead, he followed the dictates of his own intentions.
Moshe, on the other hand, always followed the word of G-d and suspended his
own thoughts and feelings. As we were about to enter Eretz Yisroel and
usher in the Messianic era, the Torah contrasted the attitudes of these two
great personalities, and underscored the example of Moshe's subservience,
rather than the example of Yisro's well-intended independence.
Copyright © 1998 by Rabbi Aron Tendler
and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation,
Valley Village, CA.