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Negativity interrupted

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Some say this weeks’ parsha, Beha’alotcha uniquely encompasses three books of the Torah.

The Gemara (Shabbos116a) explains that the two pasuk portion in our sedra (10:35-36) of “Vayehi binsoah ha’aron” is considered a sefer of the Torah in its own right as they are bracketed by inverted letter “nuns”. According to this view, we have not five, but seven books of the Torah as the book of Bamidbar is not one but three books – one before pasuk 10:35; one after pasuk 10:36; and pasuk 10:35-36 itself.

This is done as a separation between two outwardly negative events for which the Israelites suffered punishment as a result. The first was because of the fact that “they travelled from the mountain of Hashem – a three day journey” [Bamidbar 10:33]. The Talmud compares their departure from har Sinai to “a child running away from school”. The Ramban adds that they were afraid that if they stayed at har Sinai any longer, the Almighty would pile additional mitzvos upon them.

The second punishment was because of the misoninim (complainers). Rashi explains that their complaint centred on the fact that they wanted to eat meat, and were fed up with the daily portion of manna that they had received miraculously.

In halacha, doing something three consecutive times becomes a pattern and establishes something as having a new status, a chazokah in Hebrew. The middle book, therefore, interrupts this pattern of negativity before it can be established as a new defining status for the Jewish people.

This is an extraordinary lesson for us. Hashem was willing to break up the chronology of the Torah to teach us to be sensitive when dealing with negativity. Once something becomes a pattern, it’s hard to break free from it. From this, we see the importance of breaking a bad streak and working on rehabilitation. The Torah recognises how hard it is to break out of a negative cycle. We all know the difficulties involved in shaking ourselves loose from our own bad habits, and know that if only we had nipped them in the bud before they became strongly rooted in our personalities, we wouldn’t be in the position in which we find ourselves. With all the good intentions in the world, it still takes tremendous willpower to change, once a chazokah of negative behaviour has set in.

Shabbat shalom.

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