Parashat Bamidbar

Stand Up and Be Counted! 

“But you shall not count the tribe of Levi…” (1:49)

The Midrash comments: “And the Levi’im will be to Me” — the Levi’im are Mine, for all those who come close to Me, to Me I will bring them close, and they brought themselves close to Me. (Bamidbar Rabbah)

Sometimes it’s not enough to just stay in the background and keep out of harm’s way. Sometimes you have to stand up and be counted.

Sometimes a person sees an obvious desecration of G-d’s Name, when sinful ideas are purveyed as “Judaism”, such as when “reformers would weaken” and try to change the Law of the Torah or the spirit of the Torah. It’s not enough just to ignore them and turn the other way. A Jew has to stand up and be counted.

The tribe of Levi was exalted amongst the Jewish People because they were not involved in the sin of the Golden Calf. However, certainly there were many individuals who also refused to be drawn into idol worship. Why, then, weren’t they rewarded in the same way as the tribe of Levi, to be appointed “over the Tabernacle of Testimony, over all its utensils and everything that belongs to it?” (1:50)

When Moshe came down from the mountain and saw the B’nei Yisrael dancing around the Golden Calf, he shouted, “Who is for G-d — to me!” (Shemot 33:26). It was only the Tribe of Levi who answered the call as one man. It was only the Tribe of Levi who “brought themselves close” by standing together with Moshe.

Sometimes you have to stand up and be counted.

§  Source: Based on the Chiddushei HaRim

facts of life: Why did G-d give us the Torah in the desert?

“In the desert” (1:1)

It’s easy to get upset. You smile at someone on the way to work, wish him “Good Morning!” and he looks through you as though you didn’t exist. You’re waiting in line at the Post Office, and three other people barge in front of you claiming that the person in front of you was “saving” their place. You get back to the car and find that someone has neatly boxed you in so that you have to wait for 15 minutes before he comes back to the car.

Life can be so full of really annoying things. Sometimes they’re even more than annoying. Sometimes you can really let rip and let the other person know exactly what you think of him. How do you combat the feeling of annoyance and even anger that so much of our everyday life can engender?

The basis of all anger is self-importance.

What makes me think that things are supposed to go the way I want them to? Where is it written that I am supposed to be constantly fulfilled emotionally, financially, aesthetically and vocationally? We live in a society that constantly teaches us that our own self-fulfillment is the yardstick of success in life.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The yardstick of success in life is how little these things annoy us. And the only person whom these things don’t annoy is someone who is humble. A humble person doesn’t expect. He accepts everything that comes his way because he has no pre-judged conditions for his happiness. His happiness doesn’t depend on other people’s recognizing him or his talents. He is satisfied with his lot. A humble person is always ready to listen to constructive criticism and thereby constantly improve himself. A humble person makes friends easily. A self-admiring person finds it difficult to align himself with anybody that he doesn’t see as adding to the shine of his prestige. A humble person is difficult to insult because he doesn’t see himself as someone to whom people need to give honor. A conceited person is always on the brink of being insulted because he sees himself as so great.

“In the desert” Why did G-d give us the Torah in the desert? Because just as the desert is free for all to step on, so too a Jew must be humble.

To be learned in Torah, one must seek great Torah scholars and be prepared to follow their direction. A conceited person finds is difficult to believe that anyone knows better than him.

Someone who is convinced of how great he is will give slight attention to mitzvot that he considers to be insignificant, nor will he apply himself to fulfill the detailed requirements of those mitzvot that he condescends to do.

Nothing pleases G-d more than someone who is humble. The reason that Moshe was selected to receive the Torah was because he was the humblest of men. In fact, no one will ever reach that level of humility. If he would, then he would be able to receive the Torah in its totality, like Moshe.

Avraham was extremely humble. He said “I am dust and ash.” But Moshe went even further “What are we?” In Hebrew, this phrase is literally, “We what?” Our very existence never rises above the questioning. We are never more than a question. Not the answer, and certainly not the answer to everything.

§  Rashi on Nedarim 55a, Ruach Chaim

simcha corner

Moishe took his daughter Tali to the grocery store to help him buy groceries. In addition to the healthy items on his wife Miriam’s carefully prepared list, the two of them returned home with a package of chocolate chip cookies.

“Why in the world did you buy those?” Miriam asked. “You know they aren’t good for you!”

“Oh, but don’t worry, honey,” Moishe said. “These cookies have one-third less calories than usual ones.”

Miriam looked all over the package but couldn’t find any claim to that fact, so she asked, “What makes you think that?”

“We ate about a third of the box on the way home.”

Reading Rut on Shavuot

‘Ruth is read Shavuot because the timing of its events occurred ‘at the beginning of the barley harvest,’ and this period is also the time of Shavuot’ (Abudraham).

‘The reading of Ruth on Shavuot is a reminder of the stand at Mt. Sinai, when the people of Israel received a total of six hundred and thirteen mitzvoth – six hundred and six mitzvoth in addition to the seven previous Noahide Laws. The numerical value of Hebrew letters which comprise the word Ruth is six hundred and six’ (Teshu’ot Chen).

 ‘From her very birth, Ruth was worthy of accepting upon herself the yoke of mitzvoth; and the very letters of her name bear witness to it. The letters for Ruth add up to six hundred and six which together with the seven Noahide Laws add up to six hundred and thirteen’ (the Gaon of Vilna).

 ‘Our fathers had the status of converts when they accepted the Torah (in order to enter the covenant they were required to undergo circumcision and immersion as is the case with converts). In honor of Ruth who was a convert and became the mother of Israel’s royal family, we say, ‘When we received the Torah, we were all converts’ (Agan).

 ‘Megilat Ruth was written by the Prophet Sh.muel, to indicate the genealogy of Kind David for Ruth the Moabite. We learn from the writing of this Megilah that there was Divine assent in the matter, for the end of the Megilah recounts David’s ancestry and David was born on Shavuot and died on Shavuot’ (Bechor Shor).

 The story of Ruth is read at the time of the giving of the Torah so that we might know that the written Torah and the Oral Torah, are together one Torah, and one is not Possible without the other. For David, the anointed of G-d unto all generations, was descended from a Moabite woman, and his legitimacy depended on the Oral Torah – which declared that only a Moabite man was prohibited from entering the fold of Israel – but not a Moabite woman. On the foundations of the House of David, the whole people of Israel are supported. All this could only come about through the authority of the Oral Torah.

Parsha Summary 

First/second Aliyah: Moshe counts all males over the age of 20, and registers them according to their paternal ancestry. The total, not including Shevet Levy, was 603,550. The total number of Jews was around 3 million.

third Aliya: The tribes are each assigned their position within the camp, and in the order of the traveling.

fourth Aliya: In preparation for separating the tribe of Levy, the Torah establishes Aaron’s genealogy. Although the Kohanim were also from the Tribe of Levy, they were counted by themselves.

fifth Aliya: Moshe counts the Leviyim according to their three basic families: Gershon, Kehas, and Mirarri. Their individual responsibilities in transporting the Mishkan is stated, and their total was 22,000.

sixth Aliya: Being that the Leviyim were to be in direct exchange for the first born, Moshe counts all the first born in the rest of the nation. Their total was 22,273. The extra 273 first born are instructed to redeem themselves from Aaron the Kohain for 5 silver shekels.

seventh Aliya: The Parsha concludes with detailed instructions for the family of Kahat. Their primary responsibility was to transport the vessels of the Mishkan. Only Aaron and his sons were allowed to cover the vessels in preparation for transport. Once covered, the family of Kahat did the actual carrying.

torah thoughts and pearls of wisdom from PIRKEI AVOT

How To Turn Dust Into Gold

The Mishna says in pirkei Avos (6:9), “B’shaat Pitirato Shel Adam Ein Milavin Lo LiAdam Lo Kesef V’Lo Zahav V’Lo Avanim Tovos U’Margolios”, at the time of a person’s death when he is escorted away from this world he is not accompanied by gold, silver, precious stones, or pearls, only Torah and Maasim Tovim. Does the Mishna really need to tell us this? Doesn’t everyone know that shrouds have no pockets and you cannot take it with you?

Rav Binyomin Finkel answers that the mishna is actually coming to teach us how we can take our money with us. The Mishna tells us that the only way to take our money with us is by using it for Torah and Maasim Tovim. In its raw form form it is worthless but if you have spent your riches supporting Torah and doing good deeds then all the riches will indeed follow you to the next world.

In the olden days and even today alchemists are trying to turn dust into gold. Well no one has been successful yet and what a waste it would be since they are both basically worthless. We on the other hand can turn plain old gold into eternal gold, gold that will accompany you into the grave and onward to the next world. And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to do it yourself at home.