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And When it Rested: A Torah Thought for Parashat Behaalotcha by Rav Mordechai Rabinovitch

There are two verses in this week’s reading which have been incorporated into the siddur – namely, the verses (Be’midbar 10:34-35,) recited on taking the Sefer Torah out of the Ark (for the Torah reading), and on returning it to the Ark after the reading.  Unfortunately, as with many prayers that we recite regularly, these verses fall off our tongues mechanically, and usually without us paying terribly much attention to what we are saying.

On returning the Torah to the Ark, we state: “And when it rested, שובה-return, O Hashem, the tens of thousands, thousands of Israel”.   The range of explanations of this verse is astonishing. The verb שובה has been interpreted in different ways, and each interpretation affects the overall meaning of the verse.  Bechor Shor takes the verse to be a prayer to Hashem, that all the thousands and tens of thousands of the nation will return to their place – safe and well, with none missing.  Seforno punctuates and reads the verse such that Hashem and רבבות אלפי ישראל are one phrase – i.e., G-d of the myriads of Israel. He takes שובה to mean “abide”, and explains the verse to be an appeal to Hashem to abide in our midst.  That is: Abide among us G-d of the myriads of Israel.  Ralbag sees the verse as a prayer to Hashem to strengthen the people of Israel such that the “thousands” will be as strong as “ten thousands”.  Alternatively, Ralbag reads the verse to mean: Return the myriads of Israel (to the Land of their forefathers).

Moshe prays when the camp starts to move that Hashem disperse and defeat our enemies. When the camp rests, Moshe prays for the safety of the people, for the return of the Shechinah, for the strength of the people of Israel, and for the completion of the journey to the Holy Land.

When we finish reading the Torah in public, and “the camp rests”, we too pray for all these things: victory over our enemies, safety of our citizens and soldiers, the restoration of the Temple and the return of the Shechinah, and the completion of the journey of the people of Israel in history – their complete return to the Land of our Forefathers.

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