Parshas Behaalosecha - Wait! I'm Coming!

By Rabbi Zvi Teichman
Posted on 06/20/19

Each time we remove the Sefer Torah from the Ark/Aron in preparation to read from it, we recite the verse: ויהי בנסע הארון ויאמר ד' קומה ד' ויפצו איביך וינסו משנאיך מפניך, When the Ark would travel, Moshe would say, ‘Arise, Hashem, and let your foes be scattered, let those who hate You flee from you.’

This custom is first recorded by the 13th century sage Rav Yehuda Bar Nosson in his book Machkim.

This sentiment was first expressed by Moshe as the Aron traveled for the first time ahead of the nation, praying to G-d to thwart their enemies.

What relevance does this have to the removing of the Sefer Torah from the ark in order to read from it?

Is this our mantra as we embrace the focus of our life, the Torah, to call out for the decimation of our foes?

Rashi here offers an enlightening aspect to the story. Apparently the nation had become restless and impatiently fled a bit too quickly from Mount Sinai, where they had just received the Torah, in their quest to journey towards the holy land. The Talmud likens their eagerness to ‘a child fleeing from school’ towards his next endeavor. The Maharsha adds that in the spirit of the adage, ‘if you forsake me for a day I will abandon you for two’, G-d traveled equally away from them. Upon observing this distancing from the people, Moshe appealed to G-d, קומה ד'!’, G-d, wait!’, don’t go further, let us catch up. (רש"י במדבר י לה, שבת קטו: ובמהרש"א שם)

Rashi also teaches that the Ark that lead them was the one Moshe had fashioned that was designated to house the broken tablets specifically.

Were it not for the sin of the Golden Calf and the consequent breaking of the Two Tablets, we would have returned to the idyllic existence similar to Adam prior to his sin. With our failure we were destined to struggle against the forces of confusion, darkness and doubt in peering through these clouds in discovering G-d.

Moshe knew of their frailties and asked from G-d that he never forsake them, holding out hope that in their true desire for connection G-d would always wait longingly.

There is a masoretic tradition that this verse and its companion, ובנחה יאמר שובה ד' את רבבות אלפי ישראל, And when it rested, he would say, ‘Reside tranquilly, O Hashem, among the myriad thousands of Israel’, which is recited when we return the Torah to the ark, is sandwiched by two inverted נ’s.

The Holy Zohar reveals that the symbol of an inverted and reversed נ is meant to indicate that G-d, so to speak, beckoningly turns His face towards us even when we lag far behind.

Perhaps Moshe’s request to scatter our foes and cause the haters to flee refers to our internal enemies. אויב, foe, and שונא, hater, correspond to Yishmael and Esav respectively. These two enemies represent the תאווני and כעסני, lust and anger, the associated traits of these two rouges.

When we quench those forces we merit overcoming our enemies. Perhaps that is why we pray not for their and are only overwhelming when we unleash them without restrictions. The שונא, the hater within us is the feeling of angst and frustration that often paralyze our healthy ambitions, that gestates when we don’t achieve immediate success, often turning accusingly against G-d. This is indicated in the piel form משנאיך, not simply hatred but those who persecute and place blame. To conquer that inner challenge we need merely to reiterate our faith, because the moment we accept that higher calling hatred naturally flees and dissipates.

There is an opinion in the Talmud that says that these two verses are actually a ספר, a book unto itself. The Chida quotes in the name of the Mekubalim, the mystics, that this ‘book’ will be fully revealed one day and consist of a size equal to the others.

I had heard in the name of Rav Moshe Shapiro, that it is the life and times of the struggles of all the generations that succeeded against all odds to survive and transmit the message of Sinai, that  will fill the chapters of this book.

Did you know that in Auschwitz         there was a Sefer Torah that was read from regularly?

After the war a secular Jewish journalist from Lodz described how when the Jews from Hungary arrived in Auschwitz they brought a passion for their yiddishkeit that was evident in their fervent prayers, their spirited niggunim and in the warmth they embraced a heretic like him, that he was so swept up in their faith under the darkest of conditions, that he too sensed the presence of G-d.

In that ‘shtibel’ in Auschwitz they read from a Torah as well.

Yaakov Meor, tells about his grandfather’s grandfather, a wealthy merchant who traveled widely and commissioned the writing of a miniature Sefer Torah on expensive deer hide. It enabled him to not only read from it in the course of his travels but inspired him to remain steadfast against the challenges of the alien influences that enticed one in foreign lands.

His grandson Reb Yaakov Meir Helman of Munkatch eventually inherited this treasure. As the dark clouds descended upon Europe he committed to never let it leave his grasp. He tailored a secret pocket within his garment so that he would be able to conceal it in. The day came when he was transported to Auschwitz and was forced to disrobe completely and toss his treasure in a heap of prisoners’ discarded clothes.

Determined, he discovered the attendant who was in charge of these piles of schmattes and begged him to retrieve his holy possession. He succeeded. Yaakov Meir made sure to sequester his prize from the eyes of his captors. They continued throughout their internment to read from the Torah regularly in their clandestine improvised shtibel.

They had just read from the portion of Tazria and were suddenly commanded to gather and join in a notorious death march. Those who faltered were shot on sight, and despite Yaakov Meir’s heroic efforts a bullet fell him, and he and his Torah collapsed to the ground.

For many years this is all the family knew about the tragic fate of Yaakov Meir and his Torah.

Yaakov Meir’s grandson, Yaakov Meor, lived in Israel and worked as a writer for a prominent business journal. In 1976 he attended an international business conference in Vienna in his professional capacity. While there he frequented the local Jewish community for Shabbos where he was asked to describe life in Israel and the boom it was experiencing. He regaled them with the fast pace of development the land was undergoing. The people were inspired and desired to be part of this growth. He said he would inquire from various officials in Israel for the best way they could help. He reported back that due to the many new towns and moshavim being founded there was a need for Sifrei Torah, Torah Scrolls. Their faces lit up informing Yaakov that in the cellar of the Shul there were hundreds of unclaimed religious artifacts from the Holocaust, among them many Torah scrolls that he was free to secure for this noble cause. As he descended to the dimly lit cellar, the many Sifrei Torah seemed to peer out at him like those images of the living corpses crowded in their barracks, longing for salvation. He collected what seemed to be usable and was satisfied with this remarkable sign of providence. As he was about to exit, his guide mentioned to him that he might be interested in a most unusual scroll, a miniature Torah written on deer hide.

Could it be this was his grandfather’s Torah? He suddenly recalled that his mother had mentioned that although most Atzei Chaim are made of wood, the Torah rollers on his was made of metal. In fact she remembers how the rust that developed impaired some of the parchment and written words. To his astonishment this scroll had metal rollers and upon rolling the scroll to the beginning he observed the discolored parchment.

With tears and emotions overflowing he repeated a family tradition that his grandfather was shot after Shabbos of Parshas Tazria. He suggested rolling it to that portion. The drama intensified as they shockingly discovered blood stains splattered over that segment, clearly the blood from Yaakov Meir Helman’s bullet riddled holy body.

The blood was carefully removed affording a semblance of a burial for this pure soul, and the Torah was restored to the family in Israel, being stored at various family members and finding its current location in the home of his grandson, Yaakov Meor, in the town of Chemed.

A mantel, a covering, was designed for this special Torah and has embroidered on it the following words:

וחי בהם

משפחת הלמן

ויהי בנסוע הארון...

מונקטש אושוויץ וינה רמת גן קדומים חמד

(HaMevaser - Shavuos Edition Zev Eisenstein)

It was the fearsome dedication to his faith of the patriarch of the family embodied in the Sefer Torah he commissioned that preserved his legacy until today. It will no doubt fill many verses in the expanded sefer in the days of in our Moshiach.

As we transport the ‘Aron’ in our journey of life may we echo in our lives the charge of Moshe to ward off our inner foes in conquering our enemies by the power of  the living Torah that shines forth in all our choices in life.

G-d is waiting, directing His gaze lovingly towards us, longing for us to finally arrive.


צבי יהודה טייכמאן