What If? Alternative Jewish History | Behaaloscha 5784

Most people have heard of the Five Books of Moses, but have you ever heard of the Seven Books of Moses?

In our parsha, there are two verses that we recite each time we remove the Torah from the Aaron Kodesh. The Talmud considers these verses to be their own independent book of the Torah. They are the words:

 וַיְהִי בִּנְסֹעַ הָאָרֹן וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה קוּמָה יְהֹוָה וְיָפֻצוּ אֹיְבֶיךָ וְיָנֻסוּ מְשַׂנְאֶיךָ מִפָּנֶיךָ׃
וּבְנֻחֹה יֹאמַר שׁוּבָה יְהֹוָה רִבְבוֹת אַלְפֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל׃

The Talmud explains that these two verses are considered their own book of the Torah. This means that there are really seven books of the Torah: Bereishis, Shemos, Vayikra, Bamidbar up until these verses, the verses of ויהי בנסוע הארון, the verses in the book of Bamidbar that follow these verses and the book of Devarim. These two verses essentially divide the book of Bamidbar into three separate books.

There is clearly something unique about these two verses. You may notice that inside the Sefer Torah, these two verses are bracketed by the letter nun.

‫נו"ן הפוכה – ויקיפדיה‬‎

What makes these verses so special? Why are they considered to be their own book in the Torah?

One opinion in the Talmud explains that these verses are actually written out of place. They should have been written elsewhere, but they were included here to break up the negative stories of the Jewish People leaving Sinai and then later complaining to God. It’s a strange reason to include verses out of place. Were the rabbis worried that readers of the Torah would become too sad if they read these stories back to back? Why exactly are the verses of ויהי בנסוע included here?

Rav Yaakov ben Asher, in his commentary Baal HaTurim, suggests an allusion to these two verses comprising their own book of the Torah. He explains that the verse ויהי בנסוע has 12 words corresponding to the last verse in the Torah which also has 12 words. And the second verse ובנחה יאמר has 7 words, the same number as the first verse in the Torah.

It is a clever allusion. Just like the verses in our parsha have seven and 12 words, so too the Torah itself begins with a verse that has seven words and ends with a verse that has 12 words—so we see the verses of ויהי בנסע are like their own book of the Torah.

There’s one obvious problem.

As Rav Tzadok points out, the allusion is backwards. The first verse in the Torah (בראשית ברא) has seven words and the last verse in the Torah has 12 words—so shouldn’t the first verse of ויהי בנסע have seven words and the verse of ובנחה יאמר have 12? As Rav Tzadok writes:

ויש להבין לפי רמז זה למה נרמז קודם נגד הפסוק דסוף התורה מספר י"ב ואחר כך מספר ז' תיבות כנגד הפסוק דתחלת התורה. ובתורה להיפך מתחיל בפסוק שיש בו ז' תיבות ומסיים בפ' שיש בו י"ב תיבות

Why does the first verse, ויהי בנסוע, correspond to the last verse of the Torah, and the second verse, ובנחה יאמר, correspond to the first verse in the Torah? Isn’t it backwards?

To understand the meaning of this backwards allusion and the larger significance of the verses of ויהי בנסע in the Torah, let’s explore the notion of alternative history and its connection to Torah.

Read the rest on Substack, and listen to the full shiur above!