Roy Neuberger - Jun. 01, 2018

There is a unique passage in this week’s Torah portion.


It begins with the words we utter each time we open the Holy Ark to withdraw the Sefer Torah: “Vayehi binsoa ha’aron …it came to pass, when the aron journeyed forth, that Moshe said, ‘Arise, Oh G-d, so that Your enemies may be scattered and those that hate You flee from before Your countenance.’ And when it gently came to rest, he said, ‘Return, Oh G-d, to the myriads of the thousands of Israel.’” (Numbers 10:35-6)


There is no other such passage in the Torah. Why is it unique?


There is a discussion in the Gemora (Shabbos 115b-116a). According to Rebbe, the two sentences which comprise this passage are in themselves a separate Book of the Torah, which means that, in fact, the “Chumash” (the Written Torah) consists of seven rather than five Books. Like everything else in the Torah, this is not an academic, theoretical matter. Rather it is an existential question. Upon these two sentences hang matters of life and death.


My friends, the winds of war are blowing. Let’s not underestimate the danger. In the Golan and in Gaza our enemies are becoming extremely aggressive, pushing against us on every side. “All the nations surround me …. They encircle me. They also surround me…. They encircle me like bees …. (Psalm 118) On a recent day of great jubilation in Yerushalayim, our enemies chose to intensify their hatred. On that same day, the Western nations demonstrated their solidarity with the Arab nations. We are indeed surrounded.


“Min hamaitzar … from the straits did I call upon G-d.” (Psalm 118)


Once, long ago – during our college years – my wife and I were summer fire lookouts in Crater Lake National Park, Oregon. From a mountain top we had a view stretching one hundred fifty miles in each direction. We learned there that one spark can ignite a vast forest.


Today, the world is like a dry forest. One spark is all that is needed. No one should underestimate. We are surely close to the Dawn of Redemption. Whether it will be a day “burning like an oven” or a day “with healing on its wings” (Malachi 3:19) depends on us.


“Vayehi binsoa aron…. When the Aron would travel.” How are we going to travel through life with a chance of safe passage? Are we going to walk with the Holy Ark or are we going to “go it alone?” Will we allow the Aron to “reside tranquilly … among the myriad thousands of Israel?” Upon this everything depends.


We have just completed the Holiday of Shavuos, during which we accepted the Torah, for which we prepared intensely during the seven weeks of Counting the Omer. Are we going to walk with that Torah throughout history?


That is the question, maybe the only question.


What distinguishes these two sentences to such an extent that they can be considered a discrete book of the Torah? It seems that they are in a separate time and place from the surrounding passages, which describe the fateful first steps as the Children of Israel journeyed away from Mount Sinai. Those first steps have been described, with terrible clarity, as follows: like “a child running away from school.” (Ramban on Numbers 10:35, citing a Midrash)


The words of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch zt”l describe the spiritual state of our ancestors as they left Mount Sinai: “Moshe’s (Moses’) will was in perfect harmony with the Will of Hashem, but this exalted quality … is the very antithesis of the low state of mind in which Moshe’s generation was still mired…. Only in the End of Days will [Moshe’s state of mind become] a national characteristic of the entire Jewish people.”


Suddenly we have these two sentences, which lift us out of this rebellious moment and carry us away from the Sinai Desert to a high vantage point from which we can view all past and future Jewish history. From this high place the Torah is going to pose the central question which will concern us forever: will we walk with the Aron or will we – G-d forbid! – walk alone?


Right now, after Shavuos, we are entering the “long, hot summer,” always the most dangerous time of the year for the Children of Israel. As missiles fall on the Golan and hate-filled mobs riot in Gaza, this is the one question we must ask: will we travel with the Aron or travel alone?


I quoted above the holy words of King David, but I omitted part of the sentence. Here is the complete thought: “All the nations surround me. In the Name of Hashem I cut them down.” (Psalm 118)


My friends, we are not going to survive unless we live with the Name of G-d on our lips. We cannot defeat the entire world, which is pushing in on us from all sides. We must learn from King David. This was how he approached Golias and this is how he approached all of life. This is our formula for survival and this is the way we will welcome his descendant, our Redeemer. There is no other way to confront the tsunami of hatred that surrounds us.


Now, at the end of history – as well as in the Sinai Desert at the beginning of our history – if we walk with the Holy Ark we will live to return with the Holy Ark. If we walk with the Ark, then all of Hashem’s enemies – our enemies – will be scattered, “and those that hate You [will] flee from before Your Countenance.”


May Hashem soon bring these two sentences – this separate Book in the Torah – to pass! May He bless us with the completion of our Journey through history, when the Ark will once again come to rest among us and we will all, as a unified nation, repeat the words of Moshe our Teacher, “Return, Oh G-d, to the myriads of the thousands of Israel.”




Crater Lake National Park, Oregon. Our fire lookout

was at the top of the mountain on the horizon.


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