For the week ending 15 May 2021 / 4 Sivan 5781

Parashat Bamidbar

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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The Book of Bamidbar — "In the desert" — begins with Hashem commanding Moshe to take a census of all men over age twenty — old enough for service. The count reveals just over 600,000. The levi'im are counted separately later on because their service will be unique. They will be responsible for transporting the Mishkan and its furnishings, and assembling them when the nation encamps. The 12 Tribes of Israel, each with its banner, are arranged around theMishkan in four sections: east, south, west and north. Since Levi is singled out, the tribe of Yosef is split into two tribes, Efraim and Menashe, so there will be four groups of three. When the nation travels, they march in a formation similar to the way they camp.

A formal transfer is made between the first-born and the levi'im, whereby the levi'im take over the role the first-born would have had serving in the Mishkan if not for the sin of the golden calf. The transfer is made using all the 22,000 surveyed levi'im from one month old and up. Only levi'im between 30 and 50 will work in the Mishkan. The remaining first-born sons are redeemed with silver, similar to the way we redeem our first-born today. The sons of Levi are divided into the three main families of Gershon, Kehat and Merari (besides the kohanim — the special division from Kehat's family). The family of Kehat carried the Menorah, the Table, the Altar and the Holy Ark. Because of their utmost sanctity, the Ark and the Altar are covered only by Aharon and his sons, before the levi'im prepare them for travel.


What's Wrong With Wikipedia?

“…in the Tent of Meeting…” (1:1)

I must admit to a tinge of nostalgia for the demise of that great 244-year-old creaking behemoth called The Encyclopedia Britannica. It has been ten years since the last printed edition. Britannica continues online in its electronic version, but as far as its online future is concerned, I’m not so convinced. I think people are far more likely to search Wikipedia than Britannica.

One reason, of course, is because Wiki is free, and everyone likes free. However, I think there's another reason. We love democracy. Anyone can write an entry in Wikipedia. In our society it is axiomatic that democracy is the only legitimate form of social organization. Our mindset is that the will of the majority is the best, the fairest, and indeed the only way to run society. This ideology seeps into other areas of life as well, including encyclopedias. Critics of Britannica claim that it suffers from the biases of the experts it employs. Wiki, however, suffers no less from bias. An article in Forbes magazine reports that Feng Zhu, an assistant professor in the Technology and Operations Management unit at Harvard Business School, and Shane Greenstein of Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management, found that in almost all cases, Wikipedia was more left-leaning than Britannica.

We love democracy, but, presumably, the democratization of our lives has its limits: I’m not sure how many of us would submit to extensive invasive surgery based on a straw poll taken on Twitter or Facebook. The idea that if you ask enough people a question, you are bound to come up with the right answer, is inimical to Torah thought. The spiritual Masters teach, “The opinion of the Torah is the opposite of the man in the street.” Rav Nota Schiller, our esteemed Rosh HaYeshiva, once observed, “The Torah is a democracy of opportunity and an aristocracy of opinion.” Anyone can open a Talmud and start to learn. However, for your opinion to be significant it must pass a self-policing system of peer approval that validates only the most expert.

The Book of Bamidbar deals in great detail with the laws and history of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle.

"…in the Tent of Meeting…" (1:1)

The Ramban draws striking comparisons between these laws and the Revelation at Sinai. The Mishkan, the Beit Hamikdash, and, to this day our synagogues, are the distant echoes of that revelation. They all remind us that Judaism is based on revelation and not the “wisdom of the masses.” The Torah was not given as the “Ten Suggestions; please twitter this to your friends and see what they think.” It was given as Ten Statements, Divine and immutable. Maybe check that on Wikipedia and see if I'm right?

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