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Understanding Numbers 10:35,36
By Rabbi Shlomo Nachman © May 30, 2021

How do we know what we know as Jews? We have discussed what it means to be “Rabbinic Jews” many tiumes. We base our understandings on the teachings of rabbis. But how do the rabbis know? A consideration of Numbers 10 and 11 may give us an answer:

11:1. The people took to complaining bitterly before the LORD... 11:16. Then the LORD said to Moses, “Gather for Me seventy of Israel’s elders of whom you have experience as elders and officers of the people, and bring them to the Tent of Meeting and let them take their place there with you.

11:17. I will come down and speak with you there, and I will draw upon the spirit that is on you and put it upon them; they shall share the burden of the people with you, and you shall not bear it alone.

The elders of Israel today are the rabbis as we have discussed. HaShem grants the rabbis of Israel unique perceptions. This of course varies with the rabbi. But this raises the question, why then do even highly accomplished and clearly anointed rabbis like say Rashi and Rambam and Onkelos and more recently Rebbe Nachman of Breslov and Chabad's Rebbe Schneerson sometimes differ in their understandings, interpretations and applications of Torah and related topics?

Even with the rabbinic anointing rabbis are still men, mortal beings. Some teach us that they always agree, only perceiving from the truth from different angles, as when one examines a fine jewel. While this is a pious response, objectively its simply not accurate. Sometimes the sages do not agree. Until the Olam Haba or Messianic World to Come there will remain many holes in our knowledge. The rabbis of every generation do their best but often the truth of thing is ellusive. Let's look at an example that our friend Carol Saint George asked me about. What are we to do when there is not a consensus? We educate ourselves on their replies and follow as HaShem directs us. Precious few if any of these questions have long term importance. We take lay all of our sophistications, ideas and conceptions and set them aside in order to worship the Beloved in simplicity (Sichot Haran #10, Likutey Moharan II, 44).

In Parsha Beha'alotecha we find the following verses at Numbers 10:35,36. We read the following in the Sefaria translation, but note the Hebrew for the two inverted nuns if you understand::

׆ וַיְהִ֛י בִּנְסֹ֥עַ הָאָרֹ֖ן וַיֹּ֣אמֶר מֹשֶׁ֑ה קוּמָ֣ה ׀ יְהֹוָ֗ה וְיָפֻ֙צוּ֙ אֹֽיְבֶ֔יךָ וְיָנֻ֥סוּ מְשַׂנְאֶ֖יךָ מִפָּנֶֽיךָ׃ 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!

וּבְנֻחֹ֖ה יֹאמַ֑ר שׁוּבָ֣ה יְהֹוָ֔ה רִֽבְב֖וֹת אַלְפֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃ ׆ {פ}

And when it halted, he would say: Return, O LORD, You who are Israel’s myriads of thousands!

On verse 36 Rashi notes the following comment that seems to arise, at first, without textual support.:

The myriads of thousands of Israel: This teaches us that the Divine Presence does not rest on Israel if they number fewer than twenty-two thousand.

How can this be since we know the Divinen Presence is with us if there is but a minion of 10. Does any shul have twenty-two thousand members present for its services? Indeed we know that when even a single righteous person kneels before HaShem His Presence is there! So how are we to understand this comment that "the Divine Presence does not rest on Israel if they number fewer than twenty-two thousand.?" As far as I have found Rashi nowhere expounds on this comment. As a follower of Rashi's interpretations this is perplexing.

There are, as one would expect, various Rabbinic opinions. Based on Shabbat 115b some hold that:

ויהי בנסע הארן AND IT CAME TO PASS WHEN THE ARK PROCEEDED [THAT MOSES SAID etc.] — Scripture makes signs for this section [i.e. verses 35 and 36] before and after it, to say that this is not its proper place. But why, then, is it written here? In order to make a break between one punishment and another punishment, etc., as is stated in the Talmudic chapter commencing with כל כתבי .

The verse does not belong here at all according to some of our commentators? For instance:

Mishnah Yadayim 3:5:

A book [i.e. a Torah scroll] which was erased leaving only eighty-five letters in it, like the portion of (Numbers 10:35-36), "And when the Ark would journey...,"‏ renders the hands impure. A scroll on which are written eighty-five letters, like the portion of, "And it was when the Ark was raised...,"‏ renders the hands impure. All sacred scriptures render the hands impure.

Here we find the argument that these verses are not where they are supposed to be! Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi disagrees (as do I).

Shabbat 116a:1: [Referring to the idea that] that this is not its place, as the previous portion does not discuss the nation’s travels. Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi says: It is not for that reason that signs were inserted. Rather, the signs are there because this portion is considered a book unto itself.
Shabbat 116a:2: The Gemara asks: According to whose opinion is that which Rabbi Shmuel bar Naḥman said that Rabbi Yonatan said, that with regard to the verse: “With wisdom she built her house, she carved its seven pillars” (Proverbs 9:1), these are the seven books of the Torah? According to whose opinion? It is according to the opinion of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, as by his count there are seven books of the Torah: Genesis; Exodus; Leviticus; Numbers until: “And when the Ark traveled”; the portion: “And when the Ark traveled,” which is considered its own book; the remainder of Numbers; and Deuteronomy.

I agree with Rabbi HaNasi and others that these verses are in their correct place, however his reasoning also seems difficult to accept. Does not Rambam's Thirteen Immutable Principles of Judaism tell us that "that the entire Torah now in our hands is the same one that was given to Moses our teacher, peace be upon him" and "that this Torah will not be changed, nor will there be any other Torah from the Creator? We at Beit Emunah can not accept the existence of any change or imperfection in the Holy Torah of Moshe our teacher, peace be upon him, including in its divisions as accepted by our fathers and sages. If these verses are in the wrong place what other verses might be? If these verses form a completely different book where else might such divisions be proper? Besides, who ever heard of a book composed of two sentences? No, we accept that the Torah we have in our hands, in the Hebrew, is perfect as revealed to Moshe our teacher and thence to us, his talmidim. There must be another answer.

What of these 'signs' found within the text? These are the oddly placed set of inverted nuns (׆). Here is the text as it appears in the Torah. Note the inverted nuns that seem to cradle the two verses:

(לג) וַיִּסְעוּ֙ מֵהַ֣ר יְהוָ֔ה דֶּ֖רֶךְ שְׁלֹ֣שֶׁת יָמִ֑ים וַאֲר֨וֹן בְּרִית־יְהוָ֜ה נֹסֵ֣עַ לִפְנֵיהֶ֗ם דֶּ֚רֶךְ שְׁלֹ֣שֶׁת יָמִ֔ים לָת֥וּר לָהֶ֖ם מְנוּחָֽה׃ (לד) וַעֲנַ֧ן יְהוָ֛ה עֲלֵיהֶ֖ם יוֹמָ֑ם בְּנָסְעָ֖ם מִן־הַֽמַּחֲנֶֽה׃ (׆) (ס) (לה) וַיְהִ֛י בִּנְסֹ֥עַ הָאָרֹ֖ן וַיֹּ֣אמֶר מֹשֶׁ֑ה קוּמָ֣ה ׀ יְהוָ֗ה וְיָפֻ֙צוּ֙ אֹֽיְבֶ֔יךָ וְיָנֻ֥סוּ מְשַׂנְאֶ֖יךָ מִפָּנֶֽיךָ׃ (לו) וּבְנֻחֹ֖ה יֹאמַ֑ר שׁוּבָ֣ה יְהוָ֔ה רִֽבְב֖וֹת אַלְפֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃ (׆) (ס)

Rashi interprets:

(36)The myriads of thousands of Israel: This teaches us that the Divine Presence does not rest on Israel if they number fewer than twenty-two thousand.

What is hinting at but not clarifying for us here? Look above to verse 35 for what I believe is the answer:

(35) So it was, whenever the ark set out, Moses would say, Arise, O Lord, may Your enemies be scattered and may those who hate You flee from You.

On this verse Rashi notes:

Those who hate You: Those who hate Israel [i.e. the people and/or our nation], for anyone who hates Israel hates the One Who spoke and the world came into being, as it says, “Those who hate you have raised their heads” (Psalm 83:3). Who are they? Those who “plot deviously against Your nation” (ibid. 4). - [from Sifrei]

We at Beit Emunah can not accept any interpretation that rejects the miraculous revelation of the Torah regardless of the pious intentions for doing so. The Torah, in the Hebrew text now in our hands is the exact one given to us at Har Sinai as affirmed by Rambam in his 13 Principles of Judaism. If this is not so, then all of our beliefs and practices, including our right to the Holy Land, become suspect, G-d forbid and protect us. The mystery must be solved from within the perameters of the Torah's perfection.

There is a more palatable answer to this question based on Rashi's comments and relevant passages. Consider that HaShem destroyed Sodom and the cities of the plains because there was not even a minion of righteous people there, not even ten righteous (Genesis 18:16-33). There is, based on this, a number at which the Divine Presence will depart from a place. In Sodom that number was ten.

HaShem has promised the Jews that His Spirit will never depart from us completely. So, in verse 35 when our enemies are attacking us, including when they in the future, when they will almost suceed in destroying us completely, what does HaShem tell us through the Prophet He will do?

“I am the LORD—I have not changed; and you are the children of Ya'akov—you have not ceased to be.”

Or as another translation has it:

"I am the LORD, I change not; therefore you sons of Ya'akov will not be consumed.”

Assuming Rashi is correct in numbering the “multitude” at verse 36 as twenty-two thousand, when he writes: “This teaches us that the Divine Presence does not rest on Israel if they number fewer than twenty-two thousand,” we may conclude that HaShem will never allow our numbers to drop below twenty-two thousand souls! Why? Because His Presence will never completely depart from the children or Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya'akov!

But, why "twenty-two thousand?" We have seen this number before:

The sum of the male Levites according to their families, from the age of one month and upward, counted by Moses and Aaron according to the word of the Lord, was twenty two thousand -- Numbers 3:39.

Twenty two thousand Levites who refused to worship the Golden Cow. As their numbers declined more were were added. One commentator has noted the following:

When the particular numbers mentioned (Numbers 3:22; Numbers 3:28; Numbers 3:34) be put together, they make twenty-two thousand three hundred. But the odd three hundred are omitted here, either according to the use of the Holy Scripture, where in so great numbers small ones are commonly neglected, or because they were the firstborn of the Levites, and therefore belonged to God already, and so could not be given to him again instead of the other firstborn. If this number of firstborn seem small to come from twenty-two thousand Levites, it must be considered, that only such firstborn are here named as were males, and such as continued in their parents’ families, not such as had erected new families of their own. Add to this, that God so ordered things by his wise providence, for divers weighty reasons, that this tribe should be much the least of all the tribes, as is evident by comparing the numbers of the other tribes, from twenty years old, (Numbers 1.) with the number of this from a month old; and therefore it is not strange if the number of their firstborn be less than in other tribes.

In any case, given our prophecy of the coming Despot 'like unto Haman' and his globalist dictatorship (Sanhedrin 97a and 97v) and the teaching that ¾ of the Jews in Israel are going to perish before the coming of Mashiach ben Yosef and the conclusion of the War of Magog (Ezekiel 38 and 39 etc) – we are not told about the Jews elsewhere but doubtless they will fare no better – this number, twenty-two thousand, should be taken as a most serious warning to those who wish to be counted among the “Perfected Community” referenced by Ramchal in Derech HaShem and elsewhere. As the with the Levites who refused to bow before teh Gold Cow idol, so too each of us who remain must stand firm that we will bow before none but HaShem!

Many sources have been carefully considered for this study including:

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