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The Hidden Meaning

In this Torah reading there are two passages which serve to obfuscate something else. The first example is the description of the cloud by day and fire at night that covered the Tabernacle when God wanted Israel to camp and lifted off when Israel was to journey (Numbers 9:15-23). The Tabernacle is shrouded in a cloudy cloak to obscure, at least a part, of it from view. (The word used for "cover" is khaf, sin, hey means cover as in hide from view).

The second example is found before and after verses 10:35 and 36 where there are inverted letters, nuns, inserted into the text. By the way, these words are very familiar because they are recited when the Torah is removed from the ark. According to one rabbinic tradition, attested to in an eleventh century manuscript, these verses are part of a book called "The Prophecy of Eldad and Medad" which was "nignaz", i.e., suppressed. (See 11:26 for the relevance of the names of Eldad and Medad). According to another rabbinic tradition the letters are a scribal note meaning "nekudot" which means dots. Throughout the Torah there are about a dozen words marked with dots above them. However, these eighty-five words were too many to mark with dots so, according to the tradition, the nuns were used to indicate that all of these words contained between them were to be understood as dotted. The dots indicate that these words are to be read either differently than the way that they are spelled or interpreted with a different meaning. What is literally written, then, is a cover for what is supposed to be understood. In both interpretations of the inverted nuns tradition clearly suggests that there is something else not so obvious going on within the text.

The obfuscation of text and the image of the tabernacle covered with a cloud raises two questions: 1. What was hidden? And, 2. Why was something hidden? According to kabbalistic tradition one answer is implied in the very beginning of the Torah portion (not read this year in the triennial cycle). There it says "when you mount the lamps, let the seven lamps give light ..." (Numbers 8:3) this is understood to be a veiled reference to the sefirotic system. Thus, for those who are enlightened and understand, the fact that this parsha is interested in hidden matters is alluded to right from the beginning. In later Hasidic teachings the literal Torah text is understood to be a garment hiding away the true secrets and wonders of the Torah. As it is put bluntly in one source: if you think that the words you are reading are the essence of the Torah then you have failed entirely to grasp its meaning! The answers to the two questions then might be what is hidden is the True meaning of the Torah and why it is so is that we must strive to acquire this understanding. To simply be given the information would not be sufficient. (See chapter 11 for a graphic example of what happens when you don't have to work for what you get).

Perhaps this idea of the sacred or true meaning being hidden away is paralleled in our own lives by the fact that we are so much more than what the world often sees. Realizing that this we might then want to ponder the hints or clues that those around us are emitting*. What are we missing?

* Linguistically this is pure fancy but "emet" in Hebrew, which is phonetically very close to emit in English, means truth.
Topics: Divrei Torah
Type: Dvar Torah