Torah Weekly - Parshat Bamidbar

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Parshat Bamidbar

For the week ending 29 Iyar 5760 / 2 & 3 June 2000

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  • The Extraordinary In The Ordinary
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    The Book of Bamidbar -- "In the desert" -- begins with G-d 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, because their service will be unique. They will be responsible for transporting the Mishkan and its furnishings and putting them together when the nation encamps. The Tribes of Israel, each with its banner, are arranged around the Mishkan in four sections: East, south, west and north. Since the tribe of 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 firstborn and the levi'im, whereby the levi'im take over the role the firstborn 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 firstborn sons are redeemed with silver, similar to the way we redeem our firstborn today. The sons of Levi are divided in three main families, 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.




    "In the desert..." (1:1)

    One of the most chilling photographs at Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Center in Jerusalem is that of a well-to-do Dutch family being escorted to a train to take them to their final destination. They have no idea where they are going. They take with them everything they can including the family dog. There is an air of quiet desperation on their faces.

    I often wonder how I would have reacted in their place. How would I have stood up to standing in a cattle train for 16 hours surrounded by the screaming of small children and the stench of an overflowing pail to accommodate the sanitary needs of over fifty people? How would I have reacted standing naked in a line on my way to the showers? I wonder.

    How was it that seeminglordinary people were able to show such extraordinary courage and bravery in the face of events which make a nightmare pale?

    Our Sages teach us that the Torah was given in Fire, in Water, and in the Desert.

    What does this mean?

    It was through Abraham that we received the Torah in Fire. Abraham went through the fiery furnace of Ur Kasdim rather than deny G-d. He is the father of the Jewish People, our progenitor. We carry his spiritual genes.

    At the Reed Sea, the Jewish People as a nation passed an ordeal by water. The Egyptians army was poised to drive them into the sea. At G-d's command the entire nation jumped into the water´┐Żand the sea parted.

    And if you'll say that this was merely a moment of bravado, then look at a third event that sealed the capacity of the Jewish People for self-sacrifice: They followed Moshe into the unsown vastness of the wilderness, without food, without water, with nothing more than the promise of miracle food from Above. Their only companions were snakes and scorpions.

    It was these three ordeals -- fire, water and the desert -- that anchored in the spiritual genes of the Jewish People the capacity for self-sacrifice. To this day, it is this legacy which has empowered ordinary people to behave extra-ordinarily, to reach up and proclaim their faith in the face of Hell.

    Rabbi Meir Shapiro from Lublin in Mayana shel Torah

    Haftara (Machar Chodesh)

    Shmuel I 20:18 -- 42


    This Haftara has been selected to be read on the Shabbat whose morrow is Rosh Chodesh. It begins with the words "Tomorrow is the Chodesh" which Yonatan, the son of King Saul, said to David at the outset of his plan. King Saul had demonstrated hostility towards David, whom he viewed as a competitor for his throne; was it safe for David to remain in the royal entourage? Out of his great love for David, Yonatan assumed responsibility for alarming David if the tense situation ever reached a danger point.

    To avoid the king's ubiquitous spies, Yonatan devised a secret method to inform David of King Saul's reaction to David's absence from the Rosh Chodesh feast. The Haftara ends with David's flight from Saul's anger, and the covenant David and Yonatan reiterate which will forever bind them and their posterity. David and Yonatan's mutual affection is cited by our Sages as the model of selfless love between two people.

    Love of the Land
    Selections from classical Torah sources
    which express the special relationship between
    the People of Israel and Eretz Yisrael


    In this ancient city there were 80 sets of twin brothers of kohanite families married to 80 sets of twin sisters of kohanite families.

    Maharsha (Mesechta Berachot 44a) suggests that the name of this community was derived from the word gefen (grapevine), as in the verse: "Your wife shall be like a gefen poriah, a fruitful grapevine." (Tehillim 128:3) The union of two partners who are both of kohanite families is compared to the blending of grapes with grapes (Mesechta Pesachim 49a), as opposed to a less dignified union which is like combining grapes with thorns.

    Love of the Land Archives

    Written and Compiled by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair
    General Editor: Rabbi Moshe Newman
    Production Design: Michael Treblow

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