This Shabbat, in the midst of reading the fourth book of the Torah, we will interrupt the flow briefly by reading the sixth book of the Torah.
There’s a rabbinic tradition that two verses in our parashah (Numbers 10:35-36) constitute sefer bifnei atzmo–a book unto itself, giving the Torah six books and not five. These verses, which tell what Moshe would say when the ark was in transit and when it came to a halt, are literally parenthetical remarks. The Torah brackets these phrases with large inverted letters nun. You can see what this looks like in any humash, as well as in the scroll itself.
Why the need for a separation between this aside and the rest of the Torah text? It’s not as if asides aren’t common features in the Torah. Only this one has ink dedicated to making a boundary. Are there any useful clues in the passages that come before and after the interruption? Here’s the preceding passage: “They marched from the mountain of the LORD…and the LORD’s cloud kept above them by day, as they moved on from camp” (10:33-34). After the interlude, the Torah resumes: “The people took to complaining bitterly about the LORD” (11:1).
Was that even helpful? At first glance, I’d say no, But on Shabbat morning, we’ll look at Ramban’s thoughtful comments on this question. I’m going to drop one subtle clue of my own, fitting as it is for the season. You can find it by clicking here (warning: loud music and bad makeup). I promise I’ll explain the connection on Shabbat morning!
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wise