Waco 2010: Israel camp, the Ark, and Yithro’s camp

Noahide Seven Commandments Torah classes

© 2010 by Rabbi Zvi Aviner

Yithro’s Seventh Camp

Presented in the Noahide Convention 5/31/2010 Waco Tx)

1: Three successive sections:

Shabbat Shalom. Today’s weekly parsha is Ba’aLoTCha, the third in the Book of Numbers. In Hebrew, the Book is called ‘Bamidbar,’ meaning: ‘The Wilderness,’ since it describes the forty years journey of Israel in the desert.
In the Parsha the Torah brings three successive sections:
1. Israel’s camp traveling
2. Yithro, Moses’ father in law, open a dialogue with Moses
3. The Holy Ark traveling at the front of the camp
These three are glued together on purpose. Let’s see the lesson it teaches us.

2: Israel’s Camp with Six Wings

The Torah describes Israel’s camp in details. The twelve tribes formed four wings, three tribes to a wing. Each wing did ALWAYS face one corner of the world: one to the east, one to the west, one to the north and one to the south. It kept that arrangement throughout the entire journey to the Land of Israel, as if it faced the ENTIRE WORLD, or HUMANITY as a whole. The camp moved in the direction shown by the pillars of cloud and fire, but its arrangement did not change.

Thus the camp was arranged as four wings. In the middle of it was the camp of the tribe of Levy, comprising the Fifth Camp. It its midst was the Camp of Priesthood with the Tabernacle in its center, comprising the Sixth Wing of the Schchinah. From the Tabernacle at the center emanated the pillars of fire and clouds that showed Israel the way

Hence Israel’s camp traveled in the Wilderness like no other camp in history. Moses and Israel did not follow a map or human scouts. Instead they followed the two Heavenly Pillars, one of Clouds and one of Fire, which showed them the way. When the pillar of clouds tilted to the east they went east. When it tilted to the west they went west, and so forth to the north and south. They travelled with blind faith in HaSheM.
Yes, we too should travel in our lives blindly following HaSheM.

3: The Holy Ark at the Front

The order of the sections in the text is (1) Israel’s Camp (2) Yithro’s visit (3) The Holy Ark traveling ahead. We’ve just discussed Israel’s Camp. Let’s discuss the Holy Ark. The Torah says:

“And it came to pass when the Ark journeyed forth, that Moses said:
Arise, O HaShem, so that Your enemies may be scattered
and those who hate you will flee from your Countenance

“And when it gently came to rest he (Moses) said,
Return O HaShem, the ten thousands of the thousands of Israel.”
(Numbers 10:35-36)

Seeking to rest
This section is enclosed in the text by two brackets, one before and one after. This is extremely unique. No other section in the Torah is enclosed. The rabbis considered it a separate Book on its own. The Ark travelled ahead of the Camp as the next verses show:

“And they journeyed forth from the mountain of HaSheM
Journey of three days and the Ark of the Covenant of HaSheM
Travelled ahead a three days’ journey to seek out rest for them” (Numbers 10: 33)

Moses chanted this song when the Ark began traveling and when it rested. As the song implies, the Ark travelled at the front to (1) burn snakes and scorpions (2) flatten mountains and fill up valleys (3) scatter enemies away.

In addition, the rabbis said, the Holy Ark not only sent fiery spark to burn enemies, but also COLLECTED ‘precious holy sparks’ from the souls of the nations.

You see, the Holy Ark sought a place ‘to rest.’ In the Wilderness it meant a safe resting site for Israel’s camp. But the Ark continued to travel in the Land of Israel. It ‘rested’ temporarily in different tabernacles, like in the Gilgal and Shiloh and Giveon. it finally came to rest in the Holy Temple of Jerusalem built by David and Solomon. Only the Holy Temple is called “The Eternal Resting Place.”

Thus the Ark travelled in the Wilderness but also in history. In the process it COLLECTS precious souls from the nations to join Israel. For instance it collected Ruth the Moabite, the great-grandmother of David and Solomon. And Ruth came from King Balak the Moabite, mentioned ahead (with the prophet Bilaam.) Moab came from Sodom and Gomorrah. Hence David and Solomon came from the worst possible background. Indeed, the Holy Ark had done miracles.

So why is the “Song of the Holy Ark” embraced by two brackets? For the Ark is ‘traveling’ not only in the Wilderness and in history, but also in the Torah itself. It ‘moves’ to SEPARATE calamities (Midrash.) Here we see it ahead of two sections: Israel’s camp and Yithro’s visit.

The Rabbis said that when the Messiah comes, he will re-write the section and place Moses’ song at the end of the Torah, with the brackets facing backwards to Genesis. There will be no more calamities to separate.

Having discussed Israel’s Camp and the Holy Ark, let’s focus on Yithro.

4: Yithro, the Seventh Camp

After discussing Israel’s camp, the Torah brings the following dialogue between Moses and his father In Law, Yithro:

(10:29) “And Moses said to Hovav the son of Reuel the Midianite,
the father-in-law of Moses,
We are journeying to the place of which HaShem said I’ll give it to you.
Walk with us and we will do good to you,
For HaSheM has promised good concerning Israel.

(10:30) “And he (Yithro) said to him, I shall not go,
I will rather go to my own land and my own birthplace.

(10:31) “But he (Moses) said, please do not leave us
For I am asking this because you are familiar with our camping in the wilderness
and you might serve as our eyes.

(10:32) “If you come with us, it shall be that the same goodness that HaSheM will have for us,
we will do for you.”

Why Yithro?
The dialogue begins with no introduction. It does not say that Yithro came again to visit Moses.
We know from the Book of Exodus that after before the giving of the Torah on Sinai, Yithro came to visit Moses and brought him his wife, Ziporah. Seeing Moses sitting all day long as a judge, Yithro advised him about how to set up a Judiciary system made of righteous people who hate bribes; and how to appoint them as officers of tens, hundreds, thousands etc. . Now Moses had grown up in Pharaoh’s home and he must have known how to rule, yet the Torah says that he accepted Yithro’s advice, thereby honoring him. All that took place either before or soon after the Revelation of Sinai. Then the Torah says that Moses sent Yithro back to his home.
If so, the RaMBaN asks, what is Yithro doing in Israel’s camp, in the Book of Numbers one year later?

The dialogue is quoted now
Most of the commentaries say that the dialogue between Moses and Yithro took place in his first and only visit, close to Sinai revelation. It is only QUOTED here in the Book of Numbers. Moses took it out of its proper context and inserted it here on purpose, to teach us some principles.

The RaMBaN is the only commentary who holds that Yithro visited twice: soon after the Exodus, and one year later as described in our prasha.
However you look at it, it seems that Moses placed Yithro’s visit here on purpose between two sections: Israel’s Camps and the Holy Ark.
What can we learn from this close connection?

We note that the three sections: Israel, Yithro and the Holy Ark ‘travel’ together as one unit. The Children of Noah are perceived here as an integral part of YHVH’S Camp traveling in the Wilderness and in history.

Ssince Israel’s camp consisted of six wings (four sides, the Levites at the center and the Priests at the very center) it comes out that Yithro, visiting Israel, constituted the seventh Camp surrounding Israel.
In Moses’ time this seventh camp consisted of one person, Yithro, but in principle it will be manned by all the Children of Noah, humanity.
Yithro was a former idol worshipper who accepted the Seven Commandments of Noah. Some say he did convert to Judaism, but as we’ll soon see, most likely he remained a Noahide.

Hence it fits: Yithro who kept the Seven Commandments, constituted the Seventh Camp traveling in the Wilderness AND IN HISTORY.

The Holy Ark was carried out from the Tabernacle to the front of Israel’s Camp. Some say there were two separate Arks: one stationary at the Tabernacle and one traveling in front. Tradition, however, holds that there was one Ark. When traveling, it was taken ahead, and when resting it was brought back to the Tabernacle.

Thus when traveling, the camp looked like this: (1) Israel’s Camp (2) Yithro’s camp surrounding Israel (3) Holy Ark at the very front.
If so, YITHRO was closer to YHVH’s Ark than Israel!
When the Ark rested it went to the center of Israel’s Camp, while Yithro surrounded the entire Camp as an outer circle.

Indeed, at the Holy Temple of Jerusalem, which is the Eternal Resting Place of the Ark, the visiting gentiles were careful not to enter beyond a fence, “hayil” that surrounded the Courtyard.
But conceptually, as long as the Ark is traveling, and IT IS STILL TRAVELING, Noahides have a direct connection to YHVH.
It means: Noahide guard and support Israel.
When traveling, Noahides (Yithro) were at the front, close to the Ark.
Noahies therefore DO NOT NEEED AN INTERMEDIARY to connect them with HaSheM.
Noahides do not need to ask a prophet, a messiah or a rabbi to connect them to HaSheM.
Naohide can pray directly to HaSheM.

We can understand now what the Talmud is saying that a Noahide who have studied the Seven Commandments and abided by them he is as great as the High Priest of Israel entering the Holy of Holies.

Let’s continue reading the dialogue between Moses and Yithro:

(10:29) And Moses said to Hovav the son of Reuel the Midianite, the father-in-law of Moses,
‘We are journeying to the place of which HaShem said I’ll give it to you.
Walk (come) with us and we will do good to you,
For HaShem has promised good concerning Israel.”

Moses father-in-law’s name is called here Hovav. In Exodus he is called Yithro. Since names in the Torah always carry a message, the name Hovav is important here. The Rabbis in the Midrash (see Rashi) count no less than seven names for Yithro:
(1) Yithro(2) Yether (3) Hovav (4) Reuel (5) Caini (6) Putiel (7) Hever,
The common denominator for all these names is FRIENDSHIP. Thus Hovav means “the beloved one,” similar to the Arabic word Habibi. The name ‘Reu-el’ has a similar meaning of a ‘Friend of El.’
This concept of Israel as a slave of YHVH is important. It explains why Israel received TEN COMMANDMENTS, in tough language of “Thou shall do” and “thou shall not do.” Noahides in contrast received Adam’s Commandments as a series of topics, headlines: IDOLATRY! ADULTERY! BLOODSHED! THEFT! JUSTICE! These ‘Commandments are like a cry in the sky, a moral dictum that everyone should abide with.

Thus everything about Yithro is around Seven:
Yithro had Seven Names
He had Seven Daughters (one of them, Ziporah, was Mosses’ wife)
He kept the Seven Commandments
He constituted the Seventh Camp around Israel, traveling with the Holy Ark

The dialogue continues, saying:

”So Moses said to his father in law,
We are journeying to the place of which HaShem said I’ll give it to you.
Walk (come) with us and we will do good to you,
For HaShem has promised good concerning Israel.”

Moses asks Yithro to join Israel in the journey to the Holy Land. Moses assumed that the journey would take only a few more months. Little he knew, as most commentators agree, that the trip would last forty years.
He was asking Yithro to join Israel not only as a friend, but for Yithro’s own benefit. Let’s note that had Yithro converted, as some say, Moses wouldn’t ask him to join since this would have been self understood.
Moses said: “Come with us and we shall do good to you, as Hashem has promised us.” A lesson to Noahides: Join Israel, and hasheM would do good to you.

But Yithro refuses Moses’ request to travel with Israel to the Holy Land, as it says:

(10:30) “And he said to him, I shall not go,
I will rather go to my own land and my own birthplace.”

Yithro wishes to go home. Had he converted, as some say, he couldn’t have said those words. Since Moses agreed, it comes out that YITHRO LIVES COMFORTABLY IN HIS LAND.

Noahides should not pack and leave home to live in the Land of Israel. A Noahide can remain living in his or her place. Like Yithro, a Noahide returns to his home. A Texan who becomes a BN remains a Texan; a Tennessean who becomes a BN remains a Tennessean. HaShem does not ask you to make an Aliyah to the Holy Land, as some think.

Note that this is not true for Israel. I may live successfully in Memphis or Lafayette, yet I would feel a strong longing to leave and go to the land of Israel. BN are exempt from that. A Noahide should feel comfortable wherever he or she resides. The very name Noah means ‘comfortable.’ A Child of Noah is comfortable wherever he is.

This consideration explains what Noahides should pray for.
A prayer should express one’s goals and aspirations. Israel prays to return to Zion, to see Jerusalem rebuilt, to see David’s Kingship restored and the Temple standing. These aspirations fill our prayer book.
BN have different, personal aspirations. BN may pray for Israel, but it is preferable that BN would pray for your own needs, like for rain on time, health, prosperity, good children and world’s peace. Noahide should NOT copy Israel’s prayer book!

Moses continues:

(10:31) “But he said, please do not leave us
For I am asking this because you are familiar with our camping in the wilderness,
And you might serve as our eyes.”

Moses says: “Please do not leave us!” So unusual! Moses has never asked or begged anything from any man before. When he stood before the mighty Pharaoh he did not beg or ask, but simply said, “Let my people go!”
And when he fled for his life after killing the Egyptian, Yithro offered him a refuge, on which the verse says: “And Moses agreed to stay with the man.” He never bagged Yithro or asked him to let him stay in his house but rather ‘agreed to stay.’
But here Moses says to the same Yithro: “Please, come with us!” Why?

The commentaries argue about that. Some say Mosses needed Yithro as a scout. This is based on Moses’ own words:

“I am asking this because you are familiar with our
camping in the wilderness, And you might serve us as our eyes.”

But that explanation does not go along with the notion that Israel’s Camp followed blindly the Pillars of Clouds and Fire.
A better explanation is that Moses conceded that Israel needs Yithro’s Wisdom in general matters. How true! Israel need the support of Noahides in all worldly matters.

But there is more specific explanation to the phrase “Be Our Eyes.” It refers to the Sanhedirn, the Jewish Court, who are often called “the people’s eyes.”
Moses told Yithro that the Sanhedrin needs his wisdom in general matters.

Alternatively, Moses inferred that Yithro’s descendants would serve on the Sanhedrin as Torah scholars.
Tradition says that Yithro’s children did ‘convert’ to Judaism, did go to the Land of Israel, and Joshua gave them a parcel of Land near Jericho whose size was 500x 500 amots, which is equal to the size of the Temple Mount.

We continue reading:

“And it came to pass when the Ark journeyed forth that Moses said,
Arise O HaShem so that Your enemies may be scattered and those who hate you will flee from your Countenance
And when it gently came to rest he said,
Return O HaShem, the ten thousands of the thousands of Israel.” (Numbers 10:35-36)

Rabbi S. Rafael Hirsch, the founders of modern Orthodoxy in Germany, asks: Why does Moses say “Ten thousands of thousands?” It ancient Hebrew one mentions first the small number then the larger numbers. On Sarah it is said: “Sarah lived seven, twenty, and a hundred years.”
Rabbi Hirsch explained: The first, large number (Ten Thousands) refers to Yithro’s camp, which one day would have in it all humanity. The second numer (thousands) refers to Israel.

Amen, let it be so.
Shabbat Shalom.
Rabbi Zvi Aviner