And when the Ark set out…

Here’s a little something I never noticed about the Torah service until I was studying it with my colleague Shelley Goldman the other day. At the beginning of the Torah service, when the Torah scroll is being removed from the Ark, we read a biblical passage from Bamidbar (Numbers), Chapter 10, which depicts the Israelites pulling up stakes and setting out on another leg of their journey through the wilderness:

ויהי בנסע הארן ויאמר משה

(Translation: And so it was that when the Ark set out on its journey Moses would say…)

At the end of the Torah service, when the Torah is being put back into the ark, we read a passage from the same perek (chapter):

ובנחה יאמר

(Translation: And when it [i.e. the Ark] came to rest, he [i.e. Moses] would say…)

In other words, the reading of the Torah is bracketed by descriptions of the Ark setting out from one camp site and setting up camp at the next. So in a very real way, when we are reading the Torah, we are supposed to feel as if we are following alongside the Israelites as they travel through the midbar (wilderness), walking along with them and experiencing their journey as our own. One of the interpretations of the biblical commandment of counting the Omer (the “week of weeks” between Passover and Shavuot) is that we are tracing the path of the Israelites from redemption (Passover) to the revelation at Sinai (Shavuot). If in every generation we are to consider ourselves as if we, personally, experienced redemption from Egypt and as if we, personally, were present at the foot of Sinai when God gave Israel the Torah, then the weekly cycle of Torah readings can be seen as the concrete way in which we relive these transformative events over and over again, finding new meaning with each cyclical revolution.

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