Naso 5769

by Ron Shapiro

June 6, 2009/14 Sivan 5769

Every year on Hanukkah, many family members tend to give my brother and I the same gift. While appreciative, I am often confused since my brother and I are nothing alike.

This Shabbat we read Parashat Naso, which describes the dedication of the Mishkan and Ohel Mo’ed, the Tabernacle and Tent of Meeting. We also read this section on Hanukkah, which happens to be when I became a Bar Mitzvah. When learning the Torah I was going to read, I was confused when the third reading was nearly identical to the combination of the first two, save the names of two chieftains. As I studied the text so I could write my d’var torah, I wondered why this paragraph of gifts was repeated.

But it is only repeated once, it occurs 12 times in a row. Each day for 12 days, a prince from a different tribe of Israel would dedicate a gift to Hashem in honor of the Mishkan and Ohel Mo’ed, but every one gave the exact same thing. Why is this repeated, couldn’t the Torah have saved valuable words from a scribe?

You could ask me this question every day for 12 days and I would probably give you a different answer each time. Were the princes just not creative, like my family around Hanukkah? Were the princes so scared to give the wrong gift to Hashem that they brainstormed together and presented him with the same present? Maybe they were unsure of what Hashem would want, so they each gave him a little bit from a bunch of categories, which would add up to a lot in the end. Or maybe the first one, Nachshon ben Aminadav, was the most creative and the other 11 followed in his lead.

I am not sure I accept any of these theories. The Etz Hayim chumash provides one which is a little better. One editor said, “Although each offering was identical, each was unique to the person who brought it. The order of the tribes seems random, implying no greater status to those who came first. To each tribe, God dedicated one day, and on that day there was no gift like its gift. The sincerity of each offering was in no way diminished by the fact that another chieftain had brought an identical offering one day earlier.” Of all, I like this thought the most, but I believe it falls one step short.

In Bereishit, we read about the sons of Adam and Eve, Cain and Able, each presenting God with a gift. Abel’s gift of meat was accepted, whereas Cain’s gift of fresh fruit was not. When Cain sees this, it leads him to kill his brother Abel out of jealousy. This story is considered the root of hatred and is looked on as a paradigm for how to stop hostility.

In comparison of these two sections, the Torah teaches us that we shouldn’t try to give more for the purpose of looking better in the face of another. For one time Jewish history, our people is united. Even during a time when the Jewish people are furious at Hashem for not having meat, they are able to stand together and present him gifts. Rarely, if ever, do we see times when all Jews stand together with one opinion, but in front of Hashem, we all must show our faith and dedication as one.

Naso 5770

by Emily Mostow

This week, we read parshat Naso. In Naso, we receive the laws of the Nazir, as it says: “Hashem speaks to Moshe, saying, ‘Speak to B’nai Yisrael and say to them, a man or a woman who shall set him/herself apart by taking a nazirite vow to set him/herself apart to Hashem” (Bamidbar 6:1-2). In other words, G-d is telling Moses that any member of B’nai Yisrael, male or female, can choose to be a Nazir and separate him/herself to G-d.

What’s the catch? There are some extra laws involved, which Hashem goes on to list in verses 6:3-21. Some of these include abstaining from alcohol, shaving, and coming into contact with the dead, as well as bringing some extra sacrifices.

Why would someone become a Nazir? We don’t have literal Nazarim today, in post-Temple times. However, many of us can relate to this idea of separating ourselves to G-d, l’hazir l’Hashem, by holding ourselves to a higher standard.

In USY, we have the Heschel Honor Society. Like the Nazirim, Heschel members choose to commit to living by extra rules. Hashem did not command everyone to do be Nazirim, but gave us the option. USY, I implore you to take any opportunity you get to separate yourselves to G-d. Whether it is joining Heschel, going to shul, or doing a SA/TO project, l’hazir l’Hashem, to separate yourself to G-d, is incredibly rewarding. Shabbat Shalom!

Bamidbar 5762

by Alexandra Bicks

Shabbat Shalom! This week’s parasha, Bamidbar, is one of the most famous in the whole Torah because it consists mainly of a very detailed list of numbers (hence the English name for this Sefer, the book of Numbers). This list is a census that God has commanded to be taken of all of the males age twenty or older in all of B’nai Yisrael. Thus, we get a listing of the complete populations of each tribe as well as the detailed locations of their camps. But, there is one tribe that is not included in the census- the Levi’im. What is the reason for this exclusion?

For once, the answer to this question is actually given in the Torah. God explains to Moshe that the Levi’im are all to be set aside for their own special function; they will work for Aharon and help to take care of the Mishkan. Under normal circumstances, the descendants of the firstborn tribe, Reuven, would receive this honor. However, the Levi’im are beloved by God because they did not participate in the affair of the Egel Ha’Zahav (The Golden Calf); everyone else, even those descendants of the firstborn, was guilty of idolatry. The Levi’im have thus demonstrated the ideal qualities of the firstborn- they are leaders, and they are loyal to God even (especially) when it is the unpopular thing to do. This is why God states, “Va’ani hineh lakachti et-ha levi’im mitoch B’nei li kol b’chor” “And I, behold, I have taken the Levi’im from among the children of Israel… for all the first-born are Mine.” The Levi’im are now the true firstborn and become able to perform a holy task.

Just as the Levi’im are the firstborn of God, so is the entire nation of Israel a firstborn nation. The Jewish people are considered the am kadosh, and they brought about the beginnings of Western civilization to the rest of the world. The modern-day state of Israel remains the “firstborn” democratic state in the whole Middle East. As Jews, it is our responsibility to serve as role models, to act upon the teachings of God as best we can in our day-to-day lives. Then, we will truly all be the firstborn of God, leaders and teachers, healers and tzaddikim. And maybe then we can help to bring about the holiest thing of all-shalom.

Bamidbar 5769

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!

Bamidbar 5770

by Alex Krule

This is a very exciting week in terms of Torah readings; we begin the fourth book of the Torah: Bamidbar. The English name for Bamidbar is “Numbers,” but this never made any sense to me. In Hebrew, bamidbar means “in the desert/wilderness.” Now, this has no significance at all to the English word “numbers,” so I was naturally perplexed as to why anyone would translate bamidbar this way. The truth is, the English name did not come from this Hebrew name for the book. Actually, the book of Bamidbar has another name – Humash Ha’Pkudim, or Humash of the Counting/Numbers – and it is from this name that we derived this English name of “Numbers.”

But still, after looking at the first aliyah of the sedra, it appears that the name of this book ought to share that of the second book of the Torah – Shmot (Hebrew for “names”) as we read the names of the leaders of the 12 tribes. However, the next aliyot explain why this book was once called Humash Ha’Pkudim; we read about an intricate national census. Instead of listing the individual numbers for each tribe, I will cut to the chase and let you know that at the end of this census, there was a whopping 603,550 men above the age of 20 (but don’t forget women, men under the age of 20, or the Levites!). Though common reasoning behind this census is to determine exactly how many able-bodied men were available to fight in battle, I believe that there is something more to this census – or any other census for that matter. The objective of this census is to take into consideration the magnitude of the individual pieces that, together, make up the larger nation and its greatness.

While this idea of the census provides many great historical facts, we now see many implications today. I could point to the obvious – the 2010 U.S. Census (for those of you living in Canada, you get to share the excitement in November) – but I think that there is a connection that is closer to all of our hearts: USY Membership Reports.

Every month, the Regional Membership/Kadima VPs receive what we would consider the “USY Census” – or the Monthly Membership Report. Instead of once every few years, we in USY have our census every month. You may find yourself asking why we don’t just have one Membership Report at the end of every USY year. The reason is that we in USY genuinely care for and think about each and every one of our members. Each month, we encourage our chapters to reach inward and outward to perpetuate involvement already existent and to attract more people to become involved. Each month, we see where we can improve ourselves, where we have done a good job, and from whom we can learn. As we finish up the 2009-2010 “USY Census” and reread the ancient census of our ancestors, let us think about the individual USYers who make our experiences so great and where we would be, if anywhere at all, without them; let us think about how the sum of those individuals makes a population of strong Jewish youth, committed to improving the world and supporting Israel while maintaining and showing our pride in the core values our faith.

Behukotai 5758

by Rachel Slutsky

This week’s parasha, Bechukotai, discusses keeping God’s laws, the rewards if we do so and the punishments if we refuse to do so. If we do as Hashem tells us, nature will work in our favor, yielding plentiful crops and rain, food, safety, peace and triumph over our enemies. We will multiply and the brit (covenant) will be kept. God will dwell among us in the mishkan (tabernacle). If the Israelite people choose to disobey God’s laws, we will be stricken with terror and disease, defeated by our enemies, our cities will be destroyed and we will be hated by Hashem. The parasha goes on in great detail about the extent of demise that shall be brought upon us if we are to disobey God’s commandments. It then goes
on to describe the tax that was collected to support the mishkan — either a monetary amount in shekels, or an animal sacrifice.

This parasha teaches us the important lesson that good is ultimately rewarded whereas evil is punished. This applies to every aspect of our daily lives. Though we are not usually punished as severely as the descriptions in the Torah indicate, we are always punished (in some way) for our misdeeds. For instance, Lashon Harah (literally the evil tongue) or gossip is always punishable. Though we may not realize it, what goes around comes around. If I spread a rumor about you, it’s a safe bet that there will be rumors about me coming around soon.

Another interesting thing about this parasha is that it does not specify any laws in particular, yet it is intricately specific about the rewards and punishments for our decision as to whether or not to follow them. One may take it to imply that means we must follow all the laws.

This parasha was not meant to be taken as a threat, but as a lesson. In our lives as Jews, we should keep this in mind. Even if it is impossible for us follow every single law, we still must try. If we break a law, we most likely won’t be stoned, but we should always try to act as dugma’ot (examples) for the entire community.

Behukotai 5763

by Kenny Gold

It is quite coincidental that memorial day weekend, the unofficial close of the USY year coincides with Bechukotai, the last Parsha of the Book of Vayikra. Just as we close out our year, the Torah closes out yet another portion of its “story.” But it is what is in the story that allows us to learn and move on to the next part of the Journey.

The Parsha opens up with the Jewish people learning of the blessings they will recieve if they faithfully serve God and fullfill his commandments. However, we also learn of the curses that will be placed upon us if we do not live up to God’s expectations. According to Rambam, our covenant with God comes from the meeting we had with God at Har Sinai, and it is from that point on that we must serve him.

So although not every USYer will be on a USY summer program and the amount of times we see one another throughout the summer will not be as often, still continue to be strong Jewish leaders, in an effort to prepare for the year to come. It is the hope that next year we will strive to make ourselves better people, by following in God’s ways and spreading the love and honor that God shows to us.

It is my hope that everyone has a wonderful Memorial Day Weekend/Shabbos and a healthy fun filled summer!

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