Weekly Reading Insights: Bamidbar
of the Torah Reading
be read on Shabbat Bamidbar, 4 Sivan 5781/May 15,
Torah: Numbers 1:1-4:20; Haftorah: Hosea 2:1-22
(begins: "The numbers of the Children of Israel")
Avot: Chapter Six
Bamidbar is the 1st Reading out
of 10 in Numbers and it contains 7393 letters, in 1823 words, in
begins by relating how Moshe, Aharon, and a prince from each tribe took a census
of the Jews (the tribe of Levi was excluded from this census). Then, G-d explains
the Levite service in taking apart and reassembling the Tabernacle during the
Jews’ travels in the desert. Then is described the location of each tribe’s encampment.
The next section deals with the genealogy of Aharon; the status of the Levites
in assisting the priests’ service in the Tabernacle; and the Levites taking the
place of the firstborn (who were originally intended to serve in the Tabernacle,
but lost this privilege by sinning with the golden calf.) Then, G-d commands Moshe
to take a census of the Levites, a census of the firstborns, and redeem the firstborns
who were in excess of the Levites. The concluding section describes the Tabernacle
duties of the Kehos family of Levites.
Rabbi Shaul Yosef Leiter, Director of Ascent
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This Shabbat precedes the much-anticipated holiday
of Shavuot when we celebrate the receiving of the Torah and it is a preparation
for the festival. We also begin a new book of the Torah, Bamidbar. The Sages called
the fourth book of the Torah Sefer HaPikudim (the Book of Counting) because
it begins with counting the Jewish people and demonstrates the uniqueness and
importance of every single Jew. Nevertheless, in Hebrew it is called Bamidbar,
"In the Desert", because the entire book recounts events that happened
during the Jewish people's forty-year sojourn in the desert, before entering our
holy land, Israel.
That the Torah was given in a desert is a central theme
in Judaism. As it explains in Midrash Tanchuma, a desert is a humble place. No
assets. Similarly, to be able to receive the Torah we must be humble. No outside
agendas. Things found in a desert are ownerless and free for the taking. Similarly,
the Torah doesn't belong to any individual or group. Anyone can take it and with
effort make it their own.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe takes the idea of the desert
from a different angle. We live in a world where many places are considered a
desert from a Jewish perspective. In general, these are places where, while there
might be Jewish people, there are no Jewish institutions, it is hard to find kosher
food and, in general, spirituality and holiness are not the priority. Materially
and physically these places could be flowering gardens, but spiritually, they
are a wasteland.
If a Jewish person ends up there, it is easy to think
that in such an environment, observing any kind of Jewish spiritual existence
is close to impossible. At first, someone might become lenient in parts of his/her
Jewish practice. (Praying in synagogue, wearing a kippa outside the home).
After a while, important principles, foundations of his/her Jewishness, might
also be relinquished. The person and the family's entire Jewish identity could
be at risk. The feeling is, "This place is different, we can't possibly behave
here like we would in a thriving Jewish center."
When a person learns
this week's Torah portion, Bamidbar,and thinks about it, s/he will understand
that this perspective is not valid at all. One of the subjects discussed is the
division of the work of the Levites when carrying the Tabernacle, the Mishkan,
the portable temple that was with us for all forty years in the desert along with
its myriad vessels. The Torah describes how the journeys were organized in the
desert and how the Mishkan was erected in each place where the Jewish people
camped. When we think about it, it is inspiring! All of this was in a desert,
literally in the heart of the wasteland.
How is it possible in a desert,
where so little lives and there was hardly a hint of Judaism, that the Jewish
people carried the Mishkan during all their journeys and as soon as they
camped, they rebuilt it at the center of their camp and immediately transformed
the wilderness into a place of holiness, fitting for Divine service.
Torah is teaching us a universal lesson. The Holy One Blessed Be He did not limit
the power of holiness to one situation or another. Any place that a Jew comes
to, no matter whether it is a physical desert or even more so, a spiritual one,
we have the ability to erect a Mishkan of Divine service. This will sanctify
the place where we find ourselves and from there, spread the light of our Jewish
traditions, of Torah and holiness.
All we have to do is to let the holy
light that is already in us, our Divine soul, shine out, to carry us forward and
light the path ahead. As soon as this happens, we will immediately see that all
the obstacles and difficulties disappear or are pushed aside, until the place
is literally transformed, so that it becomes the Land of Israel, a place of holiness.
message about the ability to transform the most spiritually forlorn place into
a holy camp, is for and within the power of every Jew. However, there is something
here particularly connected to women. The Jewish women came forward first, before
the men, when the Mishkan was originally built, showing its special connection
to women and their own unique ability to build a Mishkan anywhere. This
is the inner meaning why a Jewish home is referred to a Mikdash Me-at,
a miniature Temple.
Jewish women, who create the home, who are responsible
for educating the coming generations and who are the Jewish home's center, are
crucial for putting down the "Jewish tent stakes" in each and every
place where a Jewish family arrives. It is the women that have that special ability
to withstand the influence of the local environment, who can establish the Jewish
home on strong foundations and show the way for Jewish education of the young
for all of us.
(Tzirel Livnoni. Shulchan Shabbat. Volume 4. Machon Lubavitch)
Naftali of Ropshitz was one of the first great Chassidic Rebbes. He was born on
the day the Baal Shem Tov passed away, helping in his life to fill the vacuum
left by the tzaddik's passing. He lived in Galicia (Austria/Hungary). He
was very proud of his genealogy. He had illustrious forebears, great tzaddikim
and eminent Torah scholars on both his father's and mother's sides. He was not
arrogant but understood well the great privilege and responsibility he was given
because of his ancestors.
Once he was sitting at a festive meal with his followers.
They were speaking about the great advantage of having a good lineage. One of
his chassidim (followers/students) responded by saying, "Our rabbi, my lineage
(pedigree) is greater than yours!" This very much surprised Rabbi Naftali
because it was known that this particular chassid came from a very simple family
and many of his siblings had left the Jewish path completely. The chassid continued,
"Rebbe, my lineage is greater than your because I am the only one in my family
who puts on tefillin and observes Shabbat."
The Rebbe smiled and
said, "Truly, you are right, your lineage is greater than mine. (Rabbi Naftali
had holy ancestors, but this chassid will have holy descendants.)
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For last year's essay by Rabbi
Leiter on this week's Reading, see the archive.
THE SAGES OF KABBALAH ON KabbalaOnline.org
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Holy Ari, Mystic Classics, Chasidic Masters, Contemporary Kabbalists, and
click to Bamidbar
Standards of Celestial Conduct
From Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman's commentary
on the Torah
man shall encamp by his own standard, with the sign of their fathers house."
comments that each standard was to have a colored cloth hanging in it, the color
corresponding to that of the stone in the breastplate of the High Priest on which
the name of that tribe was engraved. Rabbi Abraham ibn Ezra comments that the
four signs on the four main standards were similar to the four figures that the
prophet Ezekiel saw in the Divine Chariot.
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