Bamidbar 5769

Posted on March 23, 2011

by Judah Kerbel

May 23, 2009/29 Iyar 5769

It is with renewed strength that we begin a new sefer this Shabbat, Sefer Bamidbar (the Book of Numbers). The word “Bamidbar” means “in the desert,” a name extremely fitting for the events of the fourth book of the Torah (though names are derived from the first significant word of the sefer/parasha). In Sefer Bamidbar, we will explore many troubling episodes in the journey of B’nai Yisrael in the desert en route to the Land of Israel. Some of these include: the mission of the twelve spies, Korah’s rebellion, Moses and the Rock, and Balak’s attempt to have the Israelites cursed. Stay tuned for more about these stories in the weeks to come …

Parashat Bamidbar gives the book a somewhat slow start. The main focus of the parasha is the census of B’nai Yisrael for the Israelite army, which is measured to be 603,550. This count does not include descendents of Levi, children under the age of 20, or women. Commenting on the first half of the first verse of the parasha, Rashi says:

“Because of Israel’s dearness before Him [God], He counts them at all times. When they departed from Egypt, He counted them. And when they fell at the sin of the Golden Calf, He counted them to determine {the number of} those who remained. And here, when He came to rest His Divine Presence upon them, He counted them …” (Saperstein Edition Translation)

Recently I’ve developed a newfound appreciation for the importance of seemingly redundant lists in the Torah. For example, the Torah goes to painful lengths to describe the exact construction of the Mishkan and the measurements and such. Here, the Torah lists the counts of every tribe, and uses the same mechanical formula each time it gives the numbers of a tribe! It then describes the location of each tribe, which tribe is primary, who leads, the number of each tribe once again, and exactly how the camps travel. Then the Torah gives us the lineage of the Levi tribe! Redundant/boring much?!

I believe that with the census here, we learn the importance of each and every Jew. Rashi explains that God counted the Israelites all the time, as when one takes account for any one person at all times, let alone a whole nation, one demonstrates his or her love and affection for whomever he/she accounts. Likewise, Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev, commenting on the connection between the same number of Israelites in this parasha as words in the Torah, relates that just as the blemish of just one letter of a Torah scroll renders it unfit for use, the loss of one Jew undermines the unity of the nation.

Kol Yisrael arevim zeh ba-zeh – all of Israel is responsible for one another. In a world where anti-Semitism still exists, where we are a small nation in our numbers, and where the State of Israel is vulnerable in its existence, we must show care and share responsibility for Klal Yisrael – the collective nation of Israel – as well as for each individual that comprises of Klal Yisrael. If we fail to do so, the consequences will be grave. As we prepare to receive the Torah on Shavuot next week with Klal Yisrael, let our hearts open and chesed pour out, and let’s leave no Jew behind.

Shabbat Shalom!