Sedra of the week: Behaalotecha

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Sedra of the week: Behaalotecha

Rabbi Yoni Birnbaum looks ahead to this week's portion of the Torah

‘Everyone has inside them a piece of good news. The good news is you don’t know how great you can be…what you can accomplish…and what your potential is.’ – Anne Frank

We begin this week’s sedra as the Jewish people embark on the triumphant final stage of their journey towards the Promised Land.

Tragically however, they suffer a crisis of faith and self-discipline. They fall into a series of complaints, bickering and hedonism that takes up the rest of this sedra, leading to the episode of the spies next week and the rebellion of Korach after that.

But between what could have been and what was, there lies a short passage containing the words we recite to this day when removing and returning the Sefer Torah to the Ark.

Uniquely, the passage is bracketed in the Torah itself by two inverted letter nuns. Highlighting this feature, the Sages refer to these two verses as a “book of the Torah” in their own right.

According to a profound explanation of this by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (d.1993), this passage is actually the first and last verses of the Book of the Torah that Moshe would have written had that failure of faith not taken place.

The two upside down, inverted, letters symbolise the fact that history was tragically turned on its head, and that final glorious book, full of success, remained unwritten.

But the memory of that book remains within these two verses as the eternal book of potential. It is the Book we write when we see the Torah as a living Tree of Life that guides us through the challenges of life.

And it is the book we write when we transform what could be into what is, through achieving our own true potential in life.

Rabbi Yoni Birnbaum serves Hadley Wood Jewish Community


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