Rav Kook Torah

BeHa'alotecha: The Triumph of the Ark

“When the Ark traveled, Moses said: ‘Arise, O God, and scatter your enemies! Let your foes flee before You!'” (Num. 10:33)

What is the difference between enemies and foes? And how would the Ark of Testimony scatter them?

Rav Kook explained that there are two kinds of antagonists: overt enemies, and hidden ones. Amalek falls under the first category. The Talmud (Berachot 44) tells us a story about the second type.

The Miracle at the Arnon Pass

Just before the Jewish people were to enter the Land of Israel, the Emorites (one of the Caananite nations) laid a trap for them. They chipped away hiding places along a narrow pass in the Arnon canyon, across the Jordan River. There, the Emorite soldiers hid, waiting for the Israelites to pass through, when they could attack them with great advantage.


What the Emorites didn’t know was that the Ark would smooth the way for the Israelites in their travels through the wilderness. When the Ark arrived at the Arnon Pass, the mountains on each side crushed together, killing the Emorite soldiers. The Jewish people traveled through the pass, blissfully unaware of their deliverance.

At the end of the Jewish camp, however, were two lepers, Et and Vahav. The last to cross through, they noticed the riverbed filling with blood from the mountainsides. They realized the miracle that had occurred, and reported it to the people. Grateful for their deliverance, the entire nation sang a song of thanks. (Num. 21:17-18)

The Battles of Et and Vahav

Even though the Talmud clearly understands that this was a historical event — and proscribes a blessing when seeing the Arnon Pass — Rav Kook interpreted this story in an allegorical fashion. Sometimes it is precisely those who are on the fringes who are most aware of the philosophical and ideological battles that the Torah wages. The two lepers at the end of the camp of Israel represent two conflicts with which the Torah contends in the world. The Ark, containing the two stone tablets from Sinai and Moses’ original sefer Torah, symbolizes the Torah itself.

The names of the two lepers are quite unusual — Et and Vahav. What do these peculiar names mean?

Et in Hebrew is an auxiliary word, with no meaning of its own. However, it contains the first and last letters of the word emet, or Truth. Et represents the conflicts stemming from new ideas in science and knowledge. It is subordinate and related to absolute Truth; but it lacks the middle letter, the substance of Truth.

Vahav” comes from the word ahava, meaning Love. (Their share the same numerical value.) The mixing up of the letters indicates that this form of love is uncontrolled. This represents the struggle between free, unbridled living, and the Torah’s principles; the contest between instant gratification and eternal values.

When these two adversaries — new scientific perceptions (Et) and the culture of living for immediate pleasures (Vahav) — join together, we find ourselves ensnared with no escape, like the Israelites trapped in the Arnon Pass. Only the light of the Torah - as represented by the Ark — can illuminate the way, crushing the mountains together and defeating the hidden foes. These enemies are hidden for those immersed in the inner sanctum of Torah. But those at the edge, whose connection to Torah and the Jewish people is weak and superficial, are acutely aware of these struggles, and more likely to witness the victory of the Torah.

The crushing of the hidden adversaries by the Ark, as the Jewish people began their conquest of the Land of Israel, is a sign for the future victory of the Torah over its ideological and cultural adversaries in the current era of the return to the Land of Israel.

(Adapted from Ein Eyah vol. II, p.246)

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