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The Torah's Weekly Portions
Numbers/Bamidbar - Bamidbar 101
Posted May, 2000
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week, we begin Sefer Bamidbar (In the Desert or Wilderness) (the Book of Numbers).  The first Parashah, Bamidbar, extends through Perek Dalet, pasuk chav (Chapter 4, verse 20).  The Parashah takes a census of the tribes and establishes a representative for each, denotes the location where each tribe shall camp around the Sanctuary, and discusses the Kohanim and Levi'im and their responsibilities and positions within the society that was Yisrael. 

For the most part, Parashat Bamidbar is narrative and descriptive.  What makes this Parashah interesting is that it sets a tone and makes clear how each part of the Torah is interconnected.  Where the first Sefer or Book (Bereishit/Genesis) of the Torah is historical leading up to the experiences of B'nai Yisrael (the Children of Israel) and Mitzrayim (Egypt), the second Sefer (Shmot/Exodus) takes B'nai Yisrael out of Mitzrayim and eventually leads to the erection of the Sanctuary.  The third Sefer (Vayikra/Leviticus) is devoted to the demands which the Sanctuary makes upon Klal Yisrael (the Nation of Israel).  It should be noted that the Sanctuary is not a thing, as in a synagogue.  Rather, it must be remembered that God dwelled within the Sanctuary and the Sanctuary was holy in nature and a unique part of Klal Yisrael. 

Rav Hirsch points out the following: 

Now this fourth book comes back to stark reality and shows us the actual relationship between the actual nation and this ideal of their calling shown in the third book.  Accordingly it begins by having the individual members of the nation counted, but as an ah-dah, as one body united by this calling.  By such a census, it is brought home to the government that the united nation is no mere vague conception, but exists in this universal calling of its members, and to the individuals that each one of them is reckoned as a not unimportant member of that nation, and that the national mission reckons on the faithfulness to duty, and conscious devotion to the common calling of all, of each individual. 

Most interesting is, 

The third book ends with instructions for the dedicatory counting of sheep in groups of flocks by their owners.  The fourth book begins with orders to count the nation of "God's flock" for their "Shepherd," in their family and tribal groups, and here to each one passes singly under the crook of the Shepherd and knows that he gets counted as an independent member of His flock. 

Having grown up in a non-Jewish religion, one of the points that I had the most difficulty accepting and internalizing was that of this notion that Klal Yisrael is that - a nation, that the things I do will not only affect me personally but have an effect far beyond myself and my own family.  However, when I began to understand that this was not merely a negative situation but rather, and far more often, a positive one, I began to grasp the concept.  In last week's Parashah, I pointed out how the mutual caring, love, and dedication of the settlers of the Land of Israel over the past 120 years caused a desert and swamp to become a garden in full bloom.  Further, I pointed out that this was consistent with that Parashah and the prophecies in it.  This is such an example.  The unity of those people fulfilled the commandments concerning being as one.  And the results speak for themselves. 

There was a very great rabbi living at that time by the name of Avraham Yitzchak Kook.  His mission, if you will, was to encourage unity amongst all of the Jews living in Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) and throughout the world.  In my opinion, his attitude was at the cornerstone of the Torah - to help Jews find a common bond and a sense of one-ness. 

Are there other such examples?  Of course, and so many that it would be impossible for me to list them all.  Here are a few examples however.  There is Hatzolah, the volunteer ambulance group.  These people are always available to help someone in need and at no charge.  Hatzolah operates entirely from donations.  There is Bikur Cholim - the organization that helps to ensure that people always have enough to eat, have proper medical care, and housing.  There is Haddasah which is an organization that collects goods no longer needed by families to provide for those less fortunate.  Ohel is an organization that provides mental health and related services to the community.  There is an army of people who go from door to door, synagogue to synagogue, collecting money for the poorer families so that they will have enough to eat.  And, of course, there is the particular organization that is near to the heart of Jewish Celebrations' - Zichron Shlomo, whose aim is to help care for children that have been stricken with cancer and to assist their families.  On more than one occasion, I have heard someone say, "Yes, but you have to be an Orthodox Jew."  This is not and has never been the case.  You merely have to be in need. 

Next week is Shavuot and there will be no Parashah commentary.  The following week, we will pick up with the longest Parashah in the Torah - Nasso.  Best wishes for a joyous Chag (holiday) filled with learning, comprehension and insight.


Translations in Torah Portions of the week are partially taken from the ArtScroll Stone Edition Chumash and from Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch Chumash

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