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These are the journeys of the Jewish people who went forth from the land of Egypt according to their legions under the hand of Moshe and Aaron. (Bamidbar 33:1)
In Parshas Masei, the forty-two journeys of the Jewish people are reviewed. These journeys encompass forty years of traveling from Egypt to Eretz Yisroel through the desert. The commentators are perplexed as to why the Torah gives such importance to these journeys by reviewing them here in our parsha. The Shelah Hakodosh explains that these journeys are a microcosm of the Jews journey throughout history. The backdrop of the desert represents the exile. The different locations in the desert correspond to different parts of the world, where the Jewish people have found themselves throughout history. Each journey corresponds to a major era in our history. By studying what occurred at each stop in the desert we may gain a Torah perspective on how to deal with the trials and tribulations that occur at the various places we find ourselves throughout our galus.
We are familiar that the Torah is divided into five books. However, let us take a closer look. In parshas behaloscha we come across two posukim that describe that traveling and encampment of the ark (Bamidbar 10:35,36). These two posukim are surrounded with upside down nuns. Chazal explain that these upside down nuns serve to mark off these two posukim as a separate book onto itself. Indeed, in the realm of halachah we learn that if a worn out Torah scroll is in danger of being destroyed on Shabbos, selected rabbinical restrictions are lifted in order to facilitate it being saved. However this leniency only applies if at least eight-five letters remain intact. This minimum is derived from the fact that the two posukim mentioned above contain exactly eight-five letters and are considered a complete book due to mark of the upside down nuns.
If these two posukim are considered a separate book, the book of Bamidbar is in reality three books. The first book of Bamidbar includes all posukim from its beginning until these two posukim. The second book is these two posukim by themselves and the third book is the posukim that follow these two posukim through the end of Bamidbar. Now if we take these three books and add the other four books of the Torah i.e., Bereishis, Shemos, Vayikra, Devarim, then we have a total of seven books.
One of the utensils in the Beis Hamikdash was the menorah. Chazal teach us that the menorah is a symbol of Torah. The commentators go to great lengths in explaining how every detail of the menorah corresponds to a different aspect of Torah. We may therefore ask what is the symbolic significance of the menorah having exactly seven lamps?
We mentioned above that in truth there are seven books of Torah. Let us therefore suggest that the seven lamps of the menorah correspond to the seven books of the Torah. The first lamp on the right corresponds to the book of Bereishis, the second to Shemos, the third to Vayikra, the forth to the first section of Bamidbar, the fifth to the two posukim mentioned above, the sixth to last section of Bamidbar and the seventh to Devarim.
Among the daily miracles that took place in the Beis Hamikdash was the miracle of the ner maaravi i.e., translated as the western lamp. The kohanim would pour into the menorah enough oil for it to burn one night. Miraculously, the ner maaravi would remain lit the next day. There is a dispute among the commentators as to exactly which candle of the menorah was called the ner maaravi. According to one opinion it was the second to last candle. It was called the western lamp because it was the first lamp that could be called west relative to the last lamp that stood at extreme east. What is the symbolic significance of a miracle occurring to the second to last candle of the menorah?
According to the symbolic relationship between the books of the Torah and the candles, the ner maaravi corresponds to the third section of Bamidbar. If we take a closer look at this section we may note that a significant part of this section deals with the travels of the Jewish people through the desert which culminates in the complete review of their travels as recorded in our parsha.
We mentioned that the journeys of the Jewish People in the desert correspond to the journeys of the Jewish people throughout history. All the lamps of the menorah produced light. This corresponds to the fact that all sections of the Torah provide us with spiritual guidance. However, only the ner maaravi produced miraculous light. The miraculous light corresponds to the section of the Torah that describes the journeys of the Jewish people through the desert and symbolically throughout history. This miraculous light awakens us to the awareness that despite the wanderings, sufferings and persecution of the Jewish people through history they will miraculously continue to survive and shine.
© Efraim Levine 5761/2001