Traveling the Desert

May 31, 2015

וּבְיוֹם הָקִים אֶת־הַמִּשְׁכָּן כִּסָּה הֶעָנָן אֶת־הַמִּשְׁכָּן לְאֹהֶל הָעֵדֻת וּבָעֶרֶב יִהְיֶה עַל־הַמִּשְׁכָּן כְּמַרְאֵה־אֵשׁ עַד־בֹּקֶר׃

On the day that the Mishkan was set up, the cloud covered the Mishkan, the Tent of the Pact; and in the evening it rested over the Mishkan in the likeness of fire until morning.

Numbers 9:15

וּבְנֻחֹה יֹאמַר שׁוּבָה יְהֹוָה רִבְבוֹת אַלְפֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל׃

And when it halted, he would say: Return, Hashem, You who are Yisrael's myriads of thousands!

uv-nu-KHOH yo-MAR shu-VAH a-do-NAI ri-v'-VOT al-FAY yis-ra-AYL

Numbers 10:36

Now the Torah describes the process of the people’s journeys through the wilderness. We are told that once the Tabernacle was erected in the camp, the cloud of God’s Glory would settle upon it. When the cloud lifted off the Tabernacle, it was a sign the time had come to travel again. The people would camp or travel according to the dictates of God. Sometimes they would camp briefly, other times for an extended period, but always in concert with God’s wishes.


God also orders two silver trumpets to be made, and tells how to use them to signal the camp. A long blast on both trumpets calls the community together. A long blast with only one is a signal to the leaders to assemble. Short blasts tell each camp in turn that the time has come to travel. The trumpets are to be blown by Aaron and his descendents.


In addition to signalling assembly and travel, the trumpets are to be blown for war, celebrations and over sacrifices.


On the twentieth day of the second month of the second year, the newly organized camp of Israel leaves Mount Sinai and travels in formation for the first time. The camp of Judah travels first, followed by the families of Gershon and Merrari, bearing the parts of the Tabernacle. Next the camp of Reuben sets out, followed by the family of Kehat with the holy vessels. They are to reassemble the Tabernacle at the next camp site. Next comes the camp of Ephraim, and finally that of Dan.


Before leaving, Moses invites his father-in-law (here called Hobab, one of the many names by which Jethro is known in the Bible) to join the people in their journeys, but he turns down the offer. Undaunted by the refusal, Moses begs him to reconsider. The Torah does not relate Jethro’s final decision.


This first journey lasts three days. As this first journey draws to a close, we are told of the words Moses would recite during their travels, lock-step with the movement of the Ark: “Rise up, O LORD, and let Thine enemies be scattered; and let them that hate Thee flee before Thee.” When the Ark would come to a stop, he would say: “Return, O LORD, unto the ten thousands of the families of Israel.” (Numbers 10:35-36) The Israel Bible reminds us that the Ark served as a constant reminder of God’s presence in the camp, and was therefore its focal point. It contained the Tablets of the Law. Today, too, the Bible must remain the focal point of our lives.


Virtual Classroom Discussion

Why do you think Moses invites his father-in-law to join them? Why do you think he refuses, at least initially?

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