Vayehi Binsoa (Lipa)

May 28, 2021

Within the compelling, and oftentimes perplexing Sefer Bamidbar, we arrive at Parshas Beha’aloscha – a truly unique and remarkable parsha. Bamidbar as a whole focuses heavily on the narratives that took place when our ancestors travelled in the desert for 40 years. The first two parshiyos mostly serve as an introduction to those travels and it isn’t until we get to the middle of this week’s parsha that the action really picks up.

Until this point, everything has proceeded according to schedule. All the instructions preparing Bnei Yisroel for their momentous campaign were carried out with precision. The inheritance of Eretz Yisroel and redemption of the Jewish People seem almost inevitable. The Torah describes in detail the impressive coordination as the entire machaneh begins to march in perfect harmony. The shevatim, guided by their leaders, unite to march together under predetermined banners. A mere eleven-day journey separated Bnei Yisroel from the Messianic age and after traveling the initial three-day journey, we were a mere eight-day march from the Promised Land. The excitement reaches a crescendo as the journey towards the fulfillment of Jewish destiny begins.

But it is here that the palpable sense of excitement and urgency of the first segment of Sefer Bamidbar abruptly ends. Here we find the famous mantras “Vayehi binsoa ha’aron,” and “U’vinucho yomar” (10:35-36). The first thing that you will notice when you find these pesukim in the Torah is that they are bracketed off by two backward nuns. In fact, Chazal (Shabbos 116a) tell us that these special pesukim form a self-contained Sefer in the middle of Chumash Bamidbar. That essentially, the Sefer Bamidbar is comprised of three books; one book is pre-vayehi binsoa ha’aron, a second book is this small unit of text, and a third book is everything that follows. To understand why that is and to understand the full impact of our pesukim, you need to look at them in the context of the entire parsha of Beha’aloscha.

Essentially, Parshas Beha’aloscha shows us the ideal – what would have been but was not. As we set out on our triumphant march into the land of Canaan, we begin with the lighting of the Menorah to complete the dedication of the Mishkan. Then the Leviim are separated and purified so they can carry the Mishkan through the desert. Then, as we are ready to march, we have the incredible parsha of Pesach Sheini – a tremendous lesson in the world of second chances. We read of the trumpets that were blown to alert the people that it was time to travel. And then we have our pesukim – as the aron travels, Hashem will clear the way for us by wiping out our enemies. The very next thing that we should read about is of the Jewish nation entering the land and Hashem fighting the wars for them.

But it is at this very moment – we could almost taste the land flowing with milk and honey, and our conquest of it – that we falter, and we succumb to material and physical desire and complaint. Our pesukim of vayehi binsoa represent hopes dashed, the ideal unrealized, of a march stopped dead in its tracks. Thus, is it bracketed off to show what should have been – the nuns (נ’s) are backward to show us that what should have been was not. From the Torah’s perspective, the ideal Bamidbar contains a truth that transcends the events that actually occurred. The ideal Bamidbar does exist, even though it has yet to take place. It was merely prevented on the practical level by certain human frailties and conditions. However, it contains a profound truth about the essence of Am Yisroel, their relationship with Hashem, and the fulfillment of their destiny. This truth is the source of our paradoxical, yet undying faith in the redemptive process, as we continue to believe that the time will come when this ideal will become reality.

With this in mind, maybe we can understand why we recite these verses before we read the Torah. As we take out the Torah and prepare to read it, we are reminded of what could have and should have been. We remind ourselves that the only way back to that ideal is through a focus on Hashem and His Torah. In the desert, we failed to appreciate the gift that Hashem had bestowed upon us. We must always remember that the journey to Eretz Yisroel is so that Torah may flow from Yerushalayim – the road we intend to travel is spiritual, not physical. We praise Hashem for giving us the Torah, reinforcing our commitment to living by its holy words, lest we again forget to appreciate His gift.

Vayehi Binsoa was written by the consummate composer Yossi Green and is masterfully sung by the always brilliant Lipa Schmeltzer on his 2012 album called Emunah – Leap of Faith. These well-known words are recited in our davening each time we open the aron kodesh and remove a sefer Torah in shul. Only now, we might have a better understanding of what it is we are really saying.

Wishing you a very uplifting Shabbos!

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