Weekly Reading Insights

Bamidbar 5763

Overview of the Weekly Reading: Bamidbar, Shabbat Mevarchim
To be read on 29 Iyar 5763 (May 31)

Torah: Num.1:1-4:20; Haftorah: Samuel I 20:18-42 (Eve of Rosh Chodesh)

Pirkei Avot - Chapter Six

Stats: Bamidbar, 1sth Reading out of 10 in Leviticus and 34th overall, contains 0 positive mitzvot and 0 prohibitive mitzvot. It is written on 263 lines in a parchment Torah scroll, 3rdth out of 54 in overall length.

Bamidbar 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 of disassembling and reassembling the Tabernacle during the Jews' travels in the desert. The parsha continues by describing 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 substituting for 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 to redeem the firstborns who were in excess of the Levites. The concluding section describes duties of the Kehos family of Levites in the Tabernacle.


"You shall take a count of the Congregation of Israel." (1:2)

When a count is taken, no distinctions are made between what is being counted. The great and the small are both equal, each having the value of one. The Torah portion of Bamidbar is always read on the Shabbat before Shavuot, the holiday on which the Torah was actually given on Mount Sinai, for all Jews stand equal on that day. Our Sages said that if even one Jew had been missing, the Torah would never have been given!

The Lubavitcher Rebbe (from L'Chaim #218)

"The Levites shall keep charge of the Sanctuary of Testimony." (1:53)

The Levites, whose job it was to "guard" the Sanctuary and the Holy Temple, were counted in the census from the age of one month. But how can a one-month-old infant possibly "keep the charge of the Sanctuary of Testimony"? The concept of "guarding" the holiness of the Sanctuary refers to spiritual guardianship, not physical protection. The Levites served not by virtue of their physical prowess or outstanding bravery, but because of their high spiritual stature, something that even a small ba by had already inherited.

Lichutei Sichot (from L'Chaim #317)



Selected with permission and adapted from the three-volume English edition of Shney Luchot HaBrit -- the Sh'lah, as translated, condensed, and annotated by Eliyahu Munk.
Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz (1565-1630), known as the 'Sh'lah' - an acronym of the title, was born in Prague. A scholar of outstanding reputation, he served as chief Rabbi of Cracow, and more famously, of Frankfort (1610-1620). After his first wife passed away, he remarried and moved to Israel in 1621, where he became the first Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Jerusalem. He later moved to Tiberias, where he is buried, near the tomb of the Rambam.

As a rule, anything counted or measured does not attract bracha blessing. This rule applies, however, only when the numbering or measurement is intrinsically physical-part of this material world. Such numbers do not bode well, since by their very definition, they stress individuality and separateness. Each item is counted separately.

A number also suggests limitation. Even if we say, "the number of the children of Israel will be as the sands of the beaches of the sea," an apparent blessing (Genesis 22:17), the presumption still is that ultimately, this is a limitation, since the number is finite.

However, in the context of the spiritual world, a numbers does not imply limitation. On the contrary, once something is numbered it will have an infinite existence, usually on an ascending level; the object that is numbered advances towards ever-greater achievements.

This is why the prophet Hoshea 2:1, states of the future of the Jewish people. "The number of the people of Israel will be like the sand of the sea that can be neither measured nor counted." We understand this verse as pointing out the difference between numbering something in this world, and that of numbering something in the World to Come. In the World to Come, numbering does not entail finitude. This is true even though the enumeration does take place, as is evident from the words "cannot be counted" which suggest that somebody is indeed attempting to count.

The message, though, is that the count cannot be completed-it cannot be finalized. This is also what the Rabbis may have meant when they said that mispar (to count), refers to a time when Israel performs the will of G-d, while lo yispar (cannot be counted) refers to a time when Israel fails to do so (Yuma 22). When Israel does not perform the will of G-d, their cleaving to this physical material world is the reason. When they do perform the will of their Maker, however, even their enumeration does not constitute something finite, something that imposes limitations on their development. Then it is not something negative. On the contrary, the counting is very beneficial.

(adapted from Torat Moshe - the 16th commentary of Rabbi Moshe Alshech of Zefat on the Torah, as translated and condensed in the English version of Eliyahu Munk)

An essay from Rabbi Shaul Yosef Leiter, director of Ascent

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(W:34-63 Bamidbar)

Summer is about having a change of pace, seeing different scenery, taking a break from our routine. We are freed from cold weather, winter clothes and sore throats. Still, Judaism is our life. There is no break from Torah. It is no less important to be careful about our divinely inspired life style while on vacation as when at home. There is a clear hint to this in one of this week's verses: "The children of Israel did all that G-d had commanded Moshe, as they camped by their banners so they traveled, each person according to his father's family" (2/34). Not only did they do as they were commanded when they camped, the tribes maintained their designated groupings even when they traveled. We are being told to take an example from our ancestors.

Just as they acted when they encamped-were 'at home' in familiar surroundings-so too they acted when they traveled. A Jew has to always remember that we were created to control our environment and to change the physical world into spirituality, not ever the other way around.

Shavuot, the annual event of the Giving of the Torah, is quickly approaching. A week from Thursday evening and Friday (and Shabbat in the Diaspora), we will receive the Torah anew. How do we maximize the experience? In Devarim 33/4 it is written, "The Torah was commanded to us by Moshe, an inheritance to the congregation of Jacob".

What is this verse telling me? First, that the Torah was commanded to us through Moshe, not G-d. Thus, no one can say he can't comprehend the Torah, that it is too high for him. This is because it was given through a person in the language of people. What more? That Torah is an inheritance. What is unique about the windfall of an inheritance is that it goes to a child, not to anyone else. If someone tries to bequeath his wealth to someone outside the family, there are grounds for a child to dispute this. Similarly, the Torah is ours, no one can take it from us.

The Talmud notes that the word for inheritance (yirusha) is spelled almost the same as the word for being betrothed (irusin). The Talmud says to read 'betrothed' in place of 'inheritance' in the verse above, to teach us that we are in a sense 'engaged' to the Torah. It must be a lifelong and passionate relationship, not something that could be construed as cold and detached like an inheritance. The Alter Rebbe (Meah Shaarim 38) takes it a step farther. By definition, an inheritance requires no work or effort on the part of the recipient. We all know children who do not appreciate the resources accumulated by their parents.

We can see another reason to read 'betrothal' rather than 'inheritance'. The function of being engaged is to prepare for the wedding; it is an active and preparatory state of being. If we want to hold onto the Torah that we are about to receive, we must prepare ourselves for the wedding. In Hebrew, the wedding ceremony is called kedushin, which can be translated as sanctification or as separation.

The way to make a vessel for the Torah is to sanctify ourselves and separate from the trivialities of the mundane, just as a Jewish bride and groom separate themselves as much as possible from the tides of pre-wedding physicality to do some spiritual work, as preparation for a lifetime of commitment. May we all receive the Torah with joy, internalizing its wisdom and living it fully.

Shabbat Shalom, Shaul Leiter

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