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    Marching orders – B’ha’alot’cha

    Every time the Torah is read we use verses from this sidra. As the Ark is opened we say Vay’hi bin’soa ha’aron – “When the Ark set forward, Moses said: ‘Rise up, O Lord, and let Your enemies be scattered, and let them that hate You flee before You’.”

    The Torah is returned with the words Uv’nucho yomar – “When it rested, he said: ‘Return, O Lord, to the many thousands of Israel”‘ (Num. 10:35-36). These verses are a unit with an inverted letter Nun at each end.

    Clearly the movement of the Ark through the wilderness was accompanied by ceremony, and we liken the moment it set off to our opening of the Ark and its arrival at a resting place to our closing of the Ark. But why refer to God’s enemies and to the many thousands of Israel?

    The first verse implies that the enemy of the Torah is the enemy of Israel; the enemy of Israel is the enemy of God.

    What does the Torah say? Love your neighbour as yourself. Love the stranger. Keep far from a false word. Do not murder. Do not steal. Do not commit adultery. Judaism always stood for these principles, but often encountered peoples who thought otherwise.

    Samson Raphael Hirsch says that through this verse “we remind ourselves of the invincibility of the Word of God which none can withstand and will in the end emerge victorious… Wherever the Torah enters, there God enters also; those who hate this Divine Law are also the foes of God.”

    The second verse asks God to return. Literally it reads, “Return, O Lord, the many thousands of Israel”. The translations insert “to” after “O Lord”. But Ibn Ezra understands shuvah as “cause to rest”, i.e. “Give the myriads of Israel rest that they may no longer be disturbed”.

    In this sense the use of this second verse has messianic connotations, just as many other prayers refer to the future redemption when the Sturm und Drang of history will be over.

    What we say when the Ark is closed is, therefore, “God, bless our struggle to be faithful to the Torah and to achieve its victory, and may we, the Torah, all mankind, and You Yourself have peace and serenity”.

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