In the Torah portion of Beha’alotcha there appears a phenomenon that is found in no other place in the entire Tanach – two sentences are bracketed by two backwards facing Hebrew letters, nuns, as a way to set them apart from the rest of the text.


“And when the ark would journey, Moses said: ‘Arise God and let your enemies be scattered, and let those that hate You flee from before You.’ And when it [the ark] rested he would say: ‘Rest peacefully God among the myriad thousands of Israel” (Numbers 10:35-36). The first sentence is recited in synagogues around the world when the ark is opened and the Torah removed for public readings, and the second sentence is recited when the Torah is placed once again in the ark. Rashi, quoting the Talmud, (Shabbat 115b-116a) explains that these two sentences are set apart due to the fact that they are not in their natural chronological place. Rabbi Avraham Arieh Trugman comments: ‘This alone would not seem sufficient reason as Rashi tells us many times that various events recorded in the Torah are not in a sequential order. What then, according to the Talmud, is the reason that they appear here? Rashi informs us: in order to separate between a series of sins which occurred in the desert. The Talmud continues by stating that these two sentences actually are considered an entirely separate book! In this manner the five books of Moses are actually seven, as this two sentence book actually divides the book of Numbers into three books. As with all verses, mitzvot and stories in the Torah, there are multilevels of understanding, especially when there is a one time phenomenon such as inverted letters that create a separate book of just two sentences. The Slonimer Rebbe quotes a Torah from the Maggid of Koznitch who suggests that the ark represents a Torah scholar who is compared to an ark containing the Torah. The Torah has been so integrated into his being that he is like a “walking Torah scroll.” The word for “journey” in our verse shares the same root as the word for “test.” Therefore, anytime the ark, in this case a Torah scholar, journeys, it is inevitable that he will face challenges and tests. The Slonimer explains that this idea really applies to every person who wants to journey from one spiritual level to a higher, more refined level of consciousness, which is the ultimate goal of Torah and mitzvot.


He shall not exchange it nor substitute another for it (27:33)


The Lubavitcher Rebbe explained that every person was born to a mission in life that is distinctly, uniquely and exclusively their own. No one—not even the greatest of souls—can take his or her place. No person who ever lived or who ever will live can fulfill that particular aspect of G‑d’s purpose in creation in his stead. This point is illustrated by a story told by the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn: A wealthy businessman and his coachman arrived in a city one Friday afternoon. After the rich man was settled at the best hotel in town, the coachman went off to his humble lodgings. Both washed and dressed for Shabbat, and then set out for the synagogue for the evening prayers. On his way to shul, the businessman came across a wagon which had swerved off the road and was stuck in a ditch. Rushing to help a fellow in need, he climbed down into the ditch and began pushing and pulling at the wagon together with its hapless driver. But for all his good intentions, the businessman was hopelessly out of his depth. After struggling for an hour in the knee-deep mud, he succeeded only in ruining his best suit of Shabbat clothes and getting the wagon even more hopelessly embedded in the mud. Finally, he dragged his bruised and aching body to the synagogue, arriving a scant minute before the start of Shabbat. Meanwhile, the coachman arrived early to the synagogue and sat down to recite a few chapters of Psalms. At the synagogue he found a group of wandering paupers, and being blessed with a most generous nature, invited them all to share his meal. When the synagogue sexton approached the paupers to arrange meal placements at the town’s householders, as is customary in Jewish communities, he received the same reply from them all: “Thank you, but I have already been invited for the Shabbat meal.” Unfortunately, however, the coachman’s means were unequal to his generous heart, and his dozen guests left his table with but a shadow of a meal in their hungry stomachs. Thus the coachman, with his twenty years of experience in extracting wagons from mudholes, took it upon himself to feed a small army, while the wealthy businessman, whose Shabbat meal leftovers could easily have fed every hungry man within a ten-mile radius, floundered about in a ditch. “Every soul,” said Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak in conclusion, “is entrusted with a mission unique to her alone, and is granted the specific aptitudes, talents and resources necessary to excel in her ordained role. One most take care not to become one of those ‘lost souls’ who wander through life trying their hand at every field of endeavor except for what is truly and inherently their own.”

Prepared by Devorah Abenhaim


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