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    B'ha'alotkha  
(Num 8:1 - 12:16)

B'Midbar/Numbers 10:12,28   And the Children of Israel journeyed as their journeys from the Wilderness of Sinai ... These were the journeys of the Children of Israel as their hosts; and they journeyed.


View whole verse and interlinear translation ...

View whole verse and interlinear translation ...

Everyone loves - or hates - going on a journey. Some people talk about "going on a road trip", while others fly to out of the way places in the world. In the days before the railways and internal combustion engines - or jet engines, come to that - a journey of any length was exactly that: it took a long time, on horse or, more likely, on foot. It would take a pilgrim walking from St. Paul's Cathedral in the city of London ten days to reach the shrine of St. Thomas à Becket in Canterbury Cathedral - a distance of some ninety miles - in 1420, following the traditional route and stops. Here Moshe records the start of the journey from Mt. Sinai to Kadesh Barnea that took some fifty stops, at least one hundred and fifty miles as crow flies, all travelled on foot, by thousands of people including children with their animals and - in the case of the Kohathites - carrying the ark and the other holy items of the Tabernacle on their shoulders.

After a long time staying static at Sinai, including Moshe's two trips up the mountain with The Name ...

HaShem: literally, Hebrew for 'The Name' - an allusion used to avoid pronouncing the Tetragrammaton, the so-called 'ineffable' name of G–d
HaShem, the sorry episode of the Golden Calf, the building and setting to work of the Tabernacle, the pillar of cloud has lifted to indicate to the people that now is the moment to set off on the next stage of their journey from Egypt to the Promised Land, the Land of Israel.

Verses 12-28 of B'Midbar chapter 10 provide a detailed account of the departure from Mt. Sinai, showing the travelling order of the twelve tribes and the way the Levites fitted into the column. The whole section starts and ends with the same verb , shown here in Stam font without pointing.1 The Who Is ...

Ba'al HaTurim: Rabbi Yaakov ben Asher (1269-1343 CE), born in Cologne, Germany; lived for 40 years in and around Toledo, Spain; died en route to Israel; his commentary to the Chumash is based upon an abridgement of the Ramban, including Rashi, Rashbam and Ibn Ezra; it includes many references to gematria and textual novelties
Baal HaTurim reports that a note in the margin of the What Is ...

The Masoretic Text: The traditional Hebrew text of the Jewish Bible, defining not just the text but also the books and order of the Jewish canon; generated in the 8th-9th centuries by a group of Jewish scholars known as the Masoretes, by adding vowel and cantilation markings to the extant consonantal text stable since 2nd Temple times; also known as the Ben Asher text after Aaron ben Moshe ben Asher who devised in the early 900s CE the marking scheme that is still used today
Masoretic Text means that "this word appears twice in the Tanakh: (i) here; and (ii) 'As they set out, a terror from G-d fell on the cities round about' (B'resheet 35:5). This indicates that just as there was a G-dly terror around Ya'akov and his family when they set out from Shechem, so too here when the Israelites journeyed." Dennis Cole suggests that "the bracketing of the journey commencement with vayyis'u ("and they set out") in 10:12,28 exhibits a people faithfully responding in tribal unity to the L-rd's command through Moshe."2

(and ) is the Qal 3mp prefix form of the root , for which Davidson supplies the primary meaning, "to pull, pluck up or out", in particular applied to tent-pegs or pins. From this comes the most common derived meaning: to break camp, and its more general corollary, "to journey". Four out bf the twelve words in our text come from this root: the first and last; , "as their journeys"; and , the construct plural form of the noun , "a journey" or "a removal". Jacob Milgrom writes that "the verb means 'pull up stakes' (cf. Judges 16:3, Isaiah 33:20), a term related to nomadic travel, where journeys and begun and ended by pulling up the tent pins and by implanting them in a new site (e.g. B'resheet 35:21). Thus means 'journey in stages' and its noun means 'stages.'"

Several of the commentators use the whole passage as a template for all the journeys that the Israelites made, following HaShem's instructions in chapter 2. Who Is ...

Rashi: Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (1040-1105 CE), French rabbi who wrote commentaries on the Torah, the Prophets and the Talmud, lived in Troyes where he founded a yeshiva in 1067; focuses on the plain meaning (p'shat) of the text, although sometimes quite cryptic in his brevity
starts
Rashi starts with the comment that this is "according to the law which is stated explicitly for the travelling of their divisions, who is first and who is last," while Rabbi Who Is ...

Hirsch: Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888 CE), German rabbi, author and educator; staunch opponent of the Reform movement in Germany and one of the fathers of Orthodox Judaism
Hirsch explains that "this was altogether the general order adopted for all the striking camp and forming up for all their further moves; and now, thus they moved on." More succinctly, Who Is ...

Abraham Ibn Ezra: (1089-1167 CE), born in Tudela, Spain; died in the South of France after wandering all around the shores of the Mediterranean and England; a philosopher, astronomer, doctor, poet and linguist; wrote a Hebrew grammar and a commentary on the Bible
Ibn Ezra says, "the point is that this is how they always marched, the whole time they were in the wilderness." From here onwards, as long as they were travelling in the wilderness, they always marched in this arrangement. Finally, Milgrom picks up on the word , "as their hosts", to show "the significant fact that Israel marched in military formation."

One last comment from Rabbi Hirsch completes our detailed work on the verse. He says, " really means to raise oneself out of the resting place one has hitherto occupied, hence, to break camp, to set oneself in motion. Then it also means continuous breaking up, remaining in motion. In our chapter it accordingly occurs with both meanings: striking camp and journeying forth." It is as if the journey is the thing: the putting down of the tent-pegs and then pulling them up again the next day, are simply milestones or way markers in the journey: the journey that started at Mt. Sinai and ended at Kadesh Barnea; the making and breaking of camp are simply necessary, expected and allowed for interruptions in the larger journey being made by the Israelites. Stephen Sherwood observes that "the ordered tribes marching in the divinely determined formation project an image of the people advancing confidently with the L-rd in their midst and in conformity to YHVH's will."3 Although there are frequent stops and halts - sometimes just overnight, sometimes for several days or weeks at a time - the over-arching purpose is to travel from Egypt to Israel, with HaShem in their midst as He directs.

No less than three times, the prophet Isaiah tells G-d's people about preparing for a journey. The first one is prepare a way for the L-rd: "Clear in the desert a road for the L-RD! Level in the wilderness highway for our G-d! Let every valley be raised, every hill and mount made low. Let the rugged ground become level and the ridges become a plain. The Presence of the L-RD shall appear, and all flesh, as one, shall behold -- For the L-RD Himself has spoken" (Isaiah 40:3-5, NJPS); the second is to prepare a way for the people, "Build up, build up a highway! Clear a road! Remove all obstacles from the road of My people!" (57:14, NJPS); while the third seems to have both the L-rd and the people in view "Pass through, pass through the gates! Clear the road for the people; build up, build up the highway, Remove the rocks! Raise an ensign over the peoples! See, the L-RD has proclaimed to the end of the earth: Announce to Fair Zion, Your Deliverer is coming!" (62:10-11, NJPS). The road crews need to be out and about on the Master's business, for there is a lot of work to do. Rocks, stones and other obstacles need to be cleared from the highway so that people do not trip or stumble in their journey; the road surface needs to be raised, levelled and surfaced so that the way is clear and easy to travel.

The Psalmist tells us that HaShem is on a journey: "He is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness, and the peoples in His faithfulness" (Psalm 96:13). Isaiah reports that the people are on a journey; they are coming to "build the ancient ruins, raise up the desolations of old, and renew the ruined cities, the desolations of many ages" (Isaiah 61:4, NJPS). Jerusalem will be restored and filled with the treasures of the nations and from there Yeshua will reign over the whole world, bringing peace and prosperity, righteousness and justice to the earth.

During His ministry years, Yeshua was constantly on a journey. As an itinerant rabbi4 and teacher, He was always moving from place to place, house to house. His larger journey was first to Jerusalem and then to the cross, so that Luke tells us, "When the days drew near for Him to be taken up, He set his face to go to Jerusalem" (Luke 9:51, ESV). He sent out His disciples on their own journeys, "Go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, proclaiming 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand'" (Matthew 10:6-7), "Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics. And whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart" (Luke 9:3-4, ESV). He constantly challenged His disciples and others to follow Him, to be a part of His journey, "Sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me" (Mark 10:21, ESV), highlighting the cost of embarking on the journey - "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head" (Luke 9:58, ESV) - and the need to be constant: "No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:62, ESV). We too are invited to join Him on the journey - are you prepared to pay that cost and be constant?

1. - The pointing differs because the second use is also the last word in a verse, referred to as being "in pause", so its vowels are lengthened for the sake of pronunciation and cantilation.

2. - R. Dennis Cole, Numbers, The New American Commentary, (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2000), page 171.

3. - Stephen Sherwood, Berit Olam: Studies in Hebrew Narrative and Poetry - Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2002), page 151.

4. - Although, strictly, the title of 'rabbi' is anachronistic for the first century, Yeshua essentially functioned as a rabbi: travelling, teaching, discipling and giving halachic rulings for His disciples.

Further Study: Shemot 40:36-37; 1 Corinthians 14:33-40

Application: Have you pulled up your tent-pegs and determined that, come what may, you are following Yeshua, advancing His kingdom and promoting His agenda for reaching and saving as many as will call upon Him? The call is there, on the table in front of you - are you on the journey with Yeshua or not?

Comment - 03:01 12Jun22 Bonnie: I noticed in Luke 9:51, He didn't say: as the time drew near to die, but instead He said when the time drew near to ascend to heaven. He spoke from the victory already won! Love this!

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© Jonathan Allen, 2022



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