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Torah Sparks

June 9, 2001 - 5761

Prepared by Rabbi Randall J. Konigsburg
Temple Sinai, Hollywood, FL

Edited by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD
Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations

Annual Cycle: Num. 8:1-12:16; Hertz Chumash, p. 605
Triennial Cycle III: Num. 10:35-12:16; Hertz Chumash, p. 613
Haftarah: Zechariah 2:14-4:7; Hertz Chumash, p. 620

(8:1-4) Aaron is commanded to light the Menorah in the Tabernacle.

(8:5-26) The Levites are purified and dedicated for their initial term of service in the Tabernacle.

(9:1-14) The first Paschal lamb sacrifice, and instructions regarding the "Second Passover" a month later for those unable to observe it at the proper time.

(9:15-23) The cloud over the Tabernacle tells when to travel and to rest.

(10:1-10) Two silver trumpets used to signal various matters.

(10:11-34) After one year less ten days, the Israelites leave Mount Sinai and travel according to a set order.

(10:35-36) The two sayings called out by Moses when the Ark traveled.

(11:1-15) The complaints of the people at Taberah, and then about the monotony of the Manna. Moses despairs of leading them.

(11:16-35) God gives a share of His spirit to the 70 elders so that they can help Moses lead the people. God sends quail for meat. God then strikes the people with a plague out of disgust with their unrestrained cravings.

(12:1-16) Moses marries a Kushite woman and endures criticism from Aaron and Miriam. Miriam is punished by God, but at Aaron's urging Moses prays for her healing. After being quarantined outside the camp for seven days, she returns.

Theme 1: Parenthetically Speaking

When the Ark was to set out, Moses would say: Advance O Lord! May Your enemies be scattered, and may Your foes flee before You! And when it halted, he would say: Return, O Lord, You who are Israel's myriads of thousands! (Num. 10:35-36)

  1. The Lord made special signs (the above verses in the text of the Torah are bracketed by two inverted Hebrew "Nuns") to inform us that this passage is not in its proper place. Why, then, is it written here? In order to make an interruption between one evil and another... (Rashi)
  2. These two verses are enclosed in inverted "Nuns" to indicate either that they are not here in their original place (Talmud); or that they are taken from another source (possibly from "the Book of the Wars of the Lord, see 21:14) and form a distinct section, scroll, or even "book" of the Torah. Some of the Rabbis held that the Book of Numbers consisted of three sections... and accordingly, they counted a total of seven books of the Torah. (J. H. Hertz, Pentateuch and Haftorahs, p. 613)
  3. Modern scholars correctly associated these signs with the critical marks employed by the Alexandrians, but they didn't fully evaluate their exact nature in our text... In our biblical scrolls these marks appear in the form of "nun" conforming to our Massoretic tradition... the (Greek) marks usually designates the transposition of verses... On the other hand, according to Rabbi (Judah the Prince) the marks indicate that our small section is a separate book. The legal sign for the beginning of a book was a blank space of four lines. Owing to the brevity of our book this procedure was abandoned and signs were provided in its stead. ...Our Rabbis had good reason to explain the inverted "Nuns" as an indication that the section constitutes a separate unit. (Saul Lieberman; Hellenism in Jewish Palestine; p. 38-43)

Discussion Sparks

We do not have many extra "marks" in the Torah so these "Nuns" are pretty unique. Do they mark a verse from another location, or are they the complete text of another "book" of the Bible that splits Numbers into two parts and makes seven books of the Bible? Let's hear if you have any other suggestions as to why these "Nuns" are here?

Theme 2: Inclusive or Exclusive?

Two men, one named Eldad and the other Medad, had remained in camp; and the spirit rested upon them... But Moses said to his aide, "Are you angered on my account? Would that all the Lord's people were prophets, that the Lord put His spirit upon them!" (Num. 11:26 & 29)

  1. Our daughters Ask: Does Moses mean what he says when he declares "Would that all God's people were prophets, that God put the Divine spirit upon them"? Is he really willing to share his spiritual leadership with "all God's people"? Miriam the Prophet answers: Judging from how he reacted with Aaron and after I challenged his authority shortly after this declaration, I would have to say "no". He just got carried away in the excitement of the moment. Esther "the Hidden One" proclaims: If only his words were true! If only all of us - men and women, Jew and Gentile, high and low, gifted and flawed - were seekers and seers of holiness. That would truly signal the dawn of the messianic age. (Ellen Frankel, "The Five Books of Miriam"; p. 208)

Discussion Sparks:

The issue here is leadership and its limitation. Moses seems enthused that others in the Israelite camp are uttering words of prophecy. He extends leadership to the seventy elders at that time. And so too, later on in Jewish history religious leadership became more inclusive and ever more democratic so that anyone could become a rabbi. From this point of view then, does it follow logically that no limitations be placed on Jewish religious leadership - except in the case of women? Yet, one wonders, where would Moses stand on this issue?

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