Thursday, May 27, 2010

Why the warlike language when the aron traveled?

Summary: Is the description of what Moshe said when the ark went out and returned really about simple travel in the wilderness? Isn't the warlike topic somewhat tangential? I suggest an answer regarding these moved pesukim.

Post: In Behaalotecha, at the end of the second perek, we have a section bracketed with inverted nuns.

These nuns are likely signs to the scribe. And the Greeks made similar signs in their books. That is what we find in Shabbat 115b-116a:
Our Rabbis taught: 'And it came to pass when the ark set forward that Moses said, [etc.]': for this section the Holy One, blessed be He, provided signs above and below, to teach that this is not its place. Rabbi said: It is not on that account, but because it ranks as a separate Book...  
Who is the Tanna that disagrees with Rabbi? It is R. Simeon b. Gamaliel. For it was taught, R. Simeon b. Gamaliel said: This section is destined to be removed from here and written in its [right place]. And why is it written here? In order to provide a break between the first [account of] punishment and the second [account of] punishment. What is the second [account of] punishment? — And the people were as murmurers, [etc.]. The first [account of] punishment? — And they 'moved away from the mount of the Lord, which R. Hama b. R. Hanina expounded [as meaning] that they turned away from following the Lord. And where is its [rightful] place? — Rav Ashi said: In [the chapter on] the banners.
I would note that, context-wise, there is a nice flow from the preceding verse. Thus:

לד  וַעֲנַן ה' עֲלֵיהֶם, יוֹמָם, בְּנָסְעָם, מִן-הַמַּחֲנֶה.  {ס}  34 And the cloud of the LORD was over them by day, when they set forward from the camp. {S}

Notice the word benaseam, and compare to binsoa.

I would also note that there are two distinct statements even within R' Shimon ben Gamliel. One was that Tanna's statement, that it is not in its rightful place. The second is the statement of Rav Ashi, a rather late Amora, explaining just where the rightful place is. No one in the intervening generations, apparently, bothered to specify the rightful place.

I would consider Rav Ashi's suggestion to be a solid one, and a guess based on a rather compelling reason. There, by the banners, is precisely where we should expect to see this short segment. However, I still would maintain that the late Amora's explanation is an educated guess.

There are other positions as to where these verses actually belong. For example, the Septuagint (LXX) has them moved one verse earlier, before verse 34 which I cited just above. This is possible, and could well account for R' Shimon ben Gamliel's statement.

(This would go against Rav Ashi, though. It would also seem to go against the explanation provided in the gemara for the movement. It was to be an interruption between the first and second account of punishment, and where the second punishment is in next perek, and the first punishment is verse 33,

לג  וַיִּסְעוּ מֵהַר יְהוָה, דֶּרֶךְ שְׁלֹשֶׁת יָמִים; וַאֲרוֹן בְּרִית-יְהוָה נֹסֵעַ לִפְנֵיהֶם, דֶּרֶךְ שְׁלֹשֶׁת יָמִים, לָתוּר לָהֶם, מְנוּחָה.33 And they set forward from the mount of the LORD three days' journey; and the ark of the covenant of the LORD went before them three days' journey, to seek out a resting-place for them.

where leaving Har Hashem was taken as negative. But moving it below is rather unhelpful; it could have provided the same gap in its initial place.)

Alternatively, not adopting the Septuagint's placement as original, perhaps there was this tradition without knowledge of where precisely, and the Septuagint just made this guess as to the proper location.

Meanwhile, Rabbi Dr. Shnayer Leiman, in this article, page 3, footnote 23, notes the Septuagint, and refers us to S. Leiberman, Hellenism, page 38-43 for a summary of current scholarly discussion regarding the inverted nuns. I have yet to check that out.

I would ask a related question. If this is really moving camps around the wilderness, why the subject choice? "Arise, Hashem, and scatter your enemies"?!

The answer I would suggest is that this indeed not the proper place for these pesukim. Neither here, nor by the degalim, is the proper place, because the intent is not the moving about of the entire Israelite people from one encampment to another.

Rather, we see that there is a role for the aron in war. In Shmuel I, 4:3, we read:

ג  וַיָּבֹא הָעָם, אֶל-הַמַּחֲנֶה, וַיֹּאמְרוּ זִקְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, לָמָּה נְגָפָנוּ ה' הַיּוֹם לִפְנֵי פְלִשְׁתִּים; נִקְחָה אֵלֵינוּ מִשִּׁלֹה, אֶת-אֲרוֹן בְּרִית ה, וְיָבֹא בְקִרְבֵּנוּ, וְיֹשִׁעֵנוּ מִכַּף אֹיְבֵינוּ.3 And when the people were come into the camp, the elders of Israel said: 'Wherefore hath the LORD smitten us to-day before the Philistines? Let us fetch the ark of the covenant of the LORD out of Shiloh unto us, that He may come among us, and save us out of the hand of our enemies.'

What if this were not such an innovation, but a somewhat regular feature of battle. Perhaps this was how they waged war even in the midbar. And if so, when the aron was taken up to go to battle, Moshe Rabbenu said X. And when it returned from battle back to the Mishkan, Moshe Rabbenu said Y. But then it was moved from its original context (or, if Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi is right, perhaps its own separate sefer), and juxtaposed with regular movements of the Israelite encampment in the midbar.

Alternatively, given that they travel with banners, the encampment in the midbar was figuratively an army, and so these statements by Moshe Rabbenu were intended figuratively.

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