Dvar Torah: Ein Mukdam

Written by Rabbi Josh Levy — 24 May 2013

The Torah portion B’haalotecha contains one of the most important verses in the whole bible – though, on first read it’s not going to seem that way.

Numbers chapter 9 verse 1 reads:
“On the first new moon – that is the first day – of the second year following the Exodus”

“So what?” I hear you ask.

Well, 9 chapters earlier, the book of Numbers began with the verse:
“On the first day of the second month of the second year following the Exodus”

It raises a question for the rabbis – why is the Torah out of order?
They answer with an important principle in how they came to read the Torah:

“Ein mukdam u’m’uchar batorah” – they say – there is no before or after in the Torah.
That is, the rabbis recognise that we should not read the Torah as a straightforward chronological narrative.

Why is this important?
It is a reminder that the Rabbis didn’t read the Torah as literal – they understood that the truth of Torah is not in its historicity – not in the account, but in its interpretation – in how we read it – in the connections we can make and find within it.

One of the current great teachers of world Jewry, Lawrence Hoffman says this of the principle:
“In an age of renewed insistence on Scriptural inerrancy, and a time when reasonable people can easily find religion antediluvian, I nominate ein mukdam um’uchar batorah as the most valuable value in the Jewish lexicon.”

In a week in which we have once again seen the ability of religion to be used, and misused; when we have seen simplistic religious narratives as a cause of pain; ein mukdam um’uchar batorah is an important reminder – that religion is far more complicated than that.