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Exposition of the Book of Numbers, Part 3

June 2, 2014

(Part 1, Part 2, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6)

The book of Numbers has a number of sections in which the verses’ structures, both syntactical and cantillational, create noticeable patterns. Many have a song-like quality to them, and some are actually sung by the reader during the public Torah reading. If you review the weekly readings with the trop or pay attention in the synagogue, you’ll notice them. If you happen to be the reader, then you’ll appreciate how the musical patterns make it easier for you to do your job. (The musical patterns are a function of the structural patterns.)

The structurally repetitive sections are:

Numbers 1 – The list of the tribal leaders, and the results of the first census (or more accurately, the military roll call).

Numbers 2 – The list of the four camps surrounding the Tabernacle.

Numbers 7 – The list of the offerings brought by the tribal leaders at the dedication of the Tabernacle.

Numbers 10:11-28 – The order of how the camps would travel in the wilderness. The structurally repetitive verses are usually sung by the reader in the manner of the Song at the Sea.

Numbers 26 – The results of the second census.

Numbers 29:17-34 – The additional offerings for the intermediate days of the Sukkoth festival.

Numbers 33 – The list of stations at which the Israelites camped during the 40-year journey from Egypt to the Plains of Moab. The structurally repetitive verses are usually sung by the reader.

Numbers 34:16-28 – The list of the new tribal leaders.

21:14-15, 17-18, and, 27-30 are also songs borrowed from other, lost books.

However, there is one section that seemingly should also fall into a structural pattern, as it contains a series of data that lend themselves to repetition. Numbers 28 and 29 list the daily sacrifices (the qorban tamid) and the additional offerings (musafim) for the Sabbaths, New Moons, and Festivals. Notice the following:

1. The qorban tamid consists of two lambs, and the additional offering for every Sabbath is also just two lambs, yet the Torah takes some eight verses to describe the tamid, whereas it only takes two, non-similar verses to describe the Sabbath offering.

2. The additional offerings for all New Moons, every day of Passover, and Pentecost are identical: two bulls, one ram, seven lambs, and a he goat as a sin offering, yet each section is written in its own unique way with its own unique structure. The reader can not assume that the words and the way they are arranged fall into any pattern!

3. The additional offerings for the New Year, the Day of Atonement, and the Eighth Day of Assembly are all the same: one bull, one ram, seven lambs, and a he goat as a sin offering, yet each section is written in its own unique way with its own unique structure. The reader can not assume that the words and the way they are arranged fall into any pattern in this case either. Perhaps it is also remarkable that because these sacrifices only differ from the others above (2) in one small detail, that one could have expected some sort of pattern to develop.

4. Numbers 15:1-16 lists the set amounts of flour and wine that must be brought as meal offerings and libations with every type of animal sacrifice. Yet, throughout Chapters 28 and 29, the Torah will often specify these same libations and meal offerings, and every time they are mentioned, the verses’ structures are different from any other that have the same information.

Because the rest of this book usually puts similar types of informational patterns into structural and musical patterns, it surprised me that these two chapters did not, and it surprised me even more that suddenly, on the intermediate day of Sukkoth, the similarity between each day’s sacrifices is so great (each day, starting with the second, has one fewer bull offered than the previous day), the Torah once again resorts to using the familiar structural patterns that make it so easy to read. Why would this be? Why do the daily and additional sacrifices not merit to fall into a structural pattern that is the hallmark of this book, but the sacrifices of Hol Hamoed Sukkoth do?

It was the week of Parashath Pin’has 5767 that I hatched an idea after reading Nahmanides’s commentary to Parshath Naso (7:3), where he explains why the Torah recorded each tribal leader’s offering in full at the inauguration of the Tabernacle, considering all the offerings were identical: among other reasons, each leader has his own unique mahshava, intent when he brought his offering. Now, the main purpose of the sacrifices is the intentions of the one or ones bringing the sacrifices, and conversely, sacrifices brought without the proper intent are not pleasing in God’s eyes. The words of the Prophets and Sages abound with these themes. All of the sections of Numbers that fall into structural patterns present facts, records of events that have already happened, whereas Numbers 28 and 29 detail the sacrifices that are to be brought in the future – with specific intent. As studying the laws of sacrifices is as though one actually brought those sacrifices, it is important that that study not set the reader’s mind on autopilot, so to speak. When he reads about the Sabbath offering, he should not have in mind, “Oh, this is just like the sacrifice brought every day, even weekdays,” or “The musafim on Pesah are exactly like the Rosh Hodesh musaf,” even though they certainly are. Each should have its own unique mahshava, the thought behind the sacrifice.

This just leaves us with the matter of the additional offerings for the second through seventh days of Sukkoth. Why are those sacrifices allowed to fall into a musical and structural pattern, a pattern that allows the student to fall into a mental pattern and thus lose some of the unique feeling and thought that should be behind those sacrifices?

The answer, I believe, follows from what Rabbi Eliezer said concerning those 70 bulls offered over the course of the seven days of Sukkoth. They correspond to the 70 nations of the world, who are also bidden to eventually ascend to Jerusalem on the Sukkoth pilgrimage. (Sukkoth 55b.) This also explains why the days of Sukkoth have twice as many rams and lambs offered than those of the other biblical holy days: The Jewish pilgrims have their ram and seven lambs, and the gentile participants have their ram and seven lambs.) As such, we can not truly provide the proper intent for those sacrifices because they are on the behalf of others. The nations are to supply the proper thoughts behind those sacrifices, and we are thus allowed to fall into a cantillational pattern when reviewing those laws.

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From → original, parasha

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