The Seven Books of the Torah

In Parshat Behaalotcha, we find two verses from Bamidbar 10:35-36 which we have been saying since the 13th century, each time the Torah is removed from the ark and replaced, “Vayehi binsoah ha’aron…”, “When the ark would journey, Moshe said, ‘Arise, God, and let your foes be scattered, let those who hate you flee from before You…’” When we look closely in the Chumash, we see that these verses are enclosed in upside down letter nun’s. Why?

In the Talmud, Masechet Shabbat 115b-116a, the rabbis taught in a Braita, God made signs (inverted nuns) above and below (sentences 35-36) to teach that this is not the proper place in the Torah for these two verses. Rebbi says: It is not for this reason that the signs appear, but rather because this section ranks as a significant book unto itself.

The Talmud then states that the Torah actually consists of seven books. How are the seven books of the Torah calculated?

Rashi explains that the book of Bamidbar is divided into three separate books:

  1. Bamidbar 1:1-10:34
  2. Bamidbar 10:35-36 (Vayehi binsoah ha’aron…)
  3. Bamidbar 10:37-36:13

If we add these three books to the other four books of the Torah, we end up with seven.

Why do we need seven books?

According to the Talmud, seven books are needed in order to separate between the narrative of the first punishment and the narrative of the second punishment. The first punishment was in 10:33 (“They journeyed from the Mountain of God a three day distance…”) Rav Chama bar Chanina commented that within three days from receiving the Torah, they already turned away from God. The second punishment was in Bamidbar 11:11 (“And the people took to seeking complaints”) this is the section of the “mitonenim.” “Vayehi binsoah” is placed in between these two unfortunate incidents in order to separate them.

If verses 35-36 are a book of the Torah unto themselves, what lesson are they trying to teach?

The message of “Let your foes be scattered, let those who hate you flee from before you” certainly rings true today. Unfortunately, the State of Israel has many enemies who are looking to destroy us from all sides. Each time that Moshe began a journey he would ask God for protection. We should do the same.

Rashi asks who the haters of Israel are. According to Sifre “they counsel cunningly against your people.” Today, you can find them on Israel’s borders, in the New York Times and on social media. We must speak out against them.

In verse 36 we read, “When the ark rested, he (Moshe) would say, ‘Reside tranquilly, O, God, among the myriad thousands of Israel.’” This verse is recited when the Torah is returned to the ark.

May we reside peacefully and tranquilly in the State of Israel and may our soldiers be safe.

About the Author
Sharona holds a BA in Judaic Studies from Stern College and an MS in Jewish Education from Azrieli Graduate School, Yeshiva University. Sharona was the first Congregational Intern and Madricha Ruchanit at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, NY. After making aliya in 2004, Sharona founded Torat Reva Yerushalayim, a non profit organization based in Jerusalem which provides Torah study groups for students of all ages and backgrounds.
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