Parshat Bamidbar 5782: The Significance of Sefer Bamidbar

Shalom Friends;

This week, our Parshat HaShevua, Bamidbar is being sponsored by Rabbi Joel & Shelly Padowitz and family of Ramat Beit Shemesh dedicated Lilui Nishmas for Joel’s grandfather Yissachar ben Moshe. To the Padowitz family, many thanks for your sponsorship and for your continued kindnesses.

You can celebrate a Simcha — a birth, a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, a Chassuna or other Simcha event in your life, or commemorate a Yahrtzeit of a loved one, or for whatever other reason by sponsoring a Parshat HaShevua.

Please forward to your relatives and friends and encourage them to sponsor a Parshat HaShevua. And please be in contact with me with any questions, or for further details.

Best Regards,

Moshe Burt
skype: mark.burt3

Parshat Bamidbar 5782: The Significance of Sefer Bamidbar

by Moshe Burt

This author is puzzled as to Hashem’s titling this Sefer and Parshat: Bamidbar. Weren’t the B’nei Yisrael in Bamidbar, the wilderness, actually from the moment that they crossed the Sea of Reeds on dry land and entered Sinai in Sefer Shemos?

We know that the B’nei Yisrael’s sojourn in Sinai lasted forty years, with Sefer Bamidbar covering nearly thirty-eight years with Sefer Devarim covering the final ten or eleven Parshiyot with simple understanding of Torah chronology vs actual historical chronology subject to machlochet (debate or dispute) among commentators.

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin notes the following in his introduction to Sefer Bamidbar in his sefer “Unlocking the Torah Text” (pages xvii – xviii):

…Bamidbar seems at first glance to be the least practical of all five books of the Torah, the events therein rooted in the past with little apparent application to our lives.

[But, it seems] that Sefer Bamidbar conveys some of the most important lessons of the entire Torah. …Two pivotal, contrasting turning points become the fulcrums [any prop or support] upon which the entire sefer turns. The first of these, the departure from [Har] Sinai, is fraught with promise and challenge as Hashem weans the newborn nation of Israel from the site of its birth and launches its march across the pages of history.

The second, the sin of the spies [Miraglim], is marked by devastating despair, as it becomes evident that this generation’s journey must be aborted. From these events, as well as all the steps leading to and following them [the two events described here], we learn much about our heritage, our people and ourselves.

This author would add to this introduction a third crucial event in Sefer Bamidbar: the evil plan hatched by the Rasha Bila’am and carried by Balak whereby male Jews were enticed and seduced by the “daughters of Moav” and fell prey to the idolatry of of Ba’al Peor resulting in the horrendous plague which claimed twenty-four thousand victims. This event included the plan of Zimri ben Salu, the nasi [leader] of Shevet [tribe] Shimon which Yehuda Nachshoni describes in his sefer “Studies in the Weekly Parsha” on Sefer Bamidbar, Parshat Pinchas in citing R’Rafael Katzenellenbogen who referred to R’ Sonnenfeld who noted that Zimri’s distorted sense of “acting for the sake of Shemayim” evolved from;

“…a novel, misleading ideology, that evil must be tolerated by incorporating it into the Camp of Israel, to dissuade the lustful man from finding himself in the camp of idolaters.” (Studies in the Weekly Parsha, by Yehuda Nachshoni, Sefer Bamidbar, Parsha Balak, page 1115.)

Rabbi Goldin now discusses the connection between the beginning of our learning of Torah’s Sefer Bamidbar which precedes the festival of Shavuot in his sefer “Unlocking the Torah Text,” Sefer Bamidbar, pages 3-5):

As a result of an apparent calendar coincidence, the leyning of Sefer Bamidbar begins each year… on the Shabbatot directly before the festival of Shavuot.

The book of Bamidbar is unique among the Five S’forim of the Torah as it is almost entirely limited to the description of the historical events and temporal [enduring for a time only; temporary; transitory (opposed to eternal)] commandments that mark the Jews’ sojourn in the wilderness.

The seemingly coincidental calendar connection between Parshat Bamidbar and the festival may not be coincidental at all, but, instead, a clear reminder of a fundamental truth: the most important moment of Revelation is the moment the Jews leave.

The instant of the nation’s departure from Sinai determines the quality of all that has come before. If the Jews leave the site of the Revelation changed by the experience, carrying the Torah with them and within them, then the dramatic events of Sinai will have achieved their purpose. If, however, upon leaving the site of Revelation, the people leave Sinai behind, then those miraculous proceedings will have been little more than a Divinely orchestrated “sound and light show” impressing the observers in transient values.

As we open Sefer Bamidbar each year on the Shabbatot before Shavuot, as we read of our departure before we arrive, we proclaim our understanding that the years spent at Sinai achieve their significance in retrospect.

What, however, is the verdict regarding the lasting impact of Revelation upon the people? Are the Jews ultimately successful in their transition from Sinai?

The parshiyot unfolding before us will reveal a mixed verdict concerning these questions.

On the one hand, the specific generation that witnesses the Revelation fails the ultimate test. “Like a child running away from school” (Rabbi Goldin citing Yalkut Shimoni, Bamidbar 729; Ramban, Bamidbar 10:35), the Jews left Sinai with alacrity [noun: cheerful readiness, promptness, or willingness, liveliness; briskness], anxious to rid themselves of the obligations thrust on them by Divine Law. Their immediate rebellion launches a series of… calamities culminating in the sin of the Miraglim, the transgression that ultimately seals their fate in the wilderness, On a temporal level, the departure from Sinai clearly leads to failure.

On the other hand, in spite of the failure of the generation of Yetziyot Mitzrayim [the going up from Egypt], Revelation does successfully launch the story of the B’nei Yisrael. Transcending the tragedies of the moment, a nation is forged at the foot of Sinai: a people that will be bound, across time and place, by the commandments and values of Torah Law. In a timeless, eternal dimension, the departure from Sinai leads to success.

Rabbi Goldin concludes (ibid, page 6):

The Jews’ forty years of wilderness wandering emerge as a critically formative period, cementing the relationship between Hashem and His people and effecting essential changes in the developing nation’s psyche.

With the departure from Sinai serving as a turning point, the momentous event towards which the first half of Sefer Bamidbar leads and from which the second half descends, this sefer of the Torah emerges as a blueprint for our journey across time. The ancient passage of our ancestors — Bamidbar, in the wilderness — yields surprising lessons that continue to shape our lives.

May we, the B’nei Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them, that the thrice expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes and the oft-destroyed Yeshiva buildings in Homesh be rebuilt, all at total government expense; due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. Baruch Hashem that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard is now free of his parole and restrictions and that he is now in his second year at home in Eretz Yisrael. May Esther Yocheved bat Yechiel Avraham have an aliyah in Shemayim and may her memory continue to lift Jonathan to at least 120 years. May the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem — as with the return in April, 2019, via Russia, of the remains of Zachariah Baumel, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of seven years ago. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and prevent Chas V’Challila the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. And may we soon and finally see the total end to the Communist Chinese corona virus pandemic and all like viruses. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nei Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem Al’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!
Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.