Parshat Bamidbar 5784: Revelation at Har Sinai — Temporal Experience, or Transcendent for All Time?

Shalom Friends;

This week, our Parshat HaShevua, Bamidbar is being sponsored by Seth and Esther Grossman dedicated in honor of their daughter Ya’eli’s recent Bat Mitzvah and for the safety of the Chayalim and the liberation of all remaining hostages and that they’re brought home whole physically, mentally and spiritually as well as for the good health and security of kol Am Yisrael. To the Grossman 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 5784: Revelation at Har Sinai — Temporal Experience, or Transcendent for All Time?

by Moshe Burt

Twenty-Nine years ago, while this author was still in Philadelphia, the National Council of Young Israel’s weekly Torah Bulletin contained a vort by Rabbi Aaron S. Gelman of the Young Israel of Santa Barbara on our Parshat Bamidbar in 5755.

Rabbi Gelman writes:

Parshat Bamidbar is almost always read on the Shabbos prior to… Shavuot. There are [many] references by Chazal as to why this is so…. The posukim of Shirat HaBe’ar (Song of the Well) found in [sefer] Bamidbar Perek 21, posukim 17 – 20 [is one such example cited by Chazal].

The Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash renders the posukim of Shirat HaBe’ar to English and provides explanations (page 835) :

“…Israel sang this song: ‘Come up, O well, announce it! Well that the princes dug, that the nobles of the people excavated, through a lawgiver, with their staff. A gift from the Wilderness — the gift went to the valley, and from the valley to the heights, and from the heights to the valley in the field of Moav, at the top of the peak, overlooking the surface of the wilderness.'”

“Princes… nobles of the people,” i.e. Moshe and Aaron. The theme of digging a well is repeated because the rock became a source of water on two occasions: shortly after Yetziyot Mitzrayim at Horev (Shemot Perek 18, posukim 6 – 7) and at Kadesh (Bamidbar, Perek 20, posuk 11)

“Through a lawgiver, with their staff.” The lawgiver was Moshe (Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash citing Rashi) who played an active role in bringing the water. The ownership of the staff, however, is given in the plural, because in Shemot, Perek 7, posuk 19 it is described as Aaron’s as well as Moshe’s. (Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash citing Midrash Aggadah)

“A gift from the Wilderness.” The well was a gift to the people from a Wilderness where there was no natural source of water, thus accentuating [verb (used with object):giving emphasis or prominence to] the greatness of the miracle.

These verses trace the path of the well as it followed the people wherever they went, no matter what the elevation or difficulty of the terrain.

Rabbi Gelman continues (in National Council of Young Israel’s weekly Torah Bulletin of twenty-Nine years ago):

Every year, on the Shabbos before Shavuot, we are… reminded by the Torah reading that we must cognitively re-evaluate ourselves and properly ready ourselves for a renewed vigorous re-acceptance…. We must raise our vistas and reaffirm that it is Torah and the transcendence [noun: the quality or state of going beyond ordinary limits; surpassing; exceeding] of Torah above all systems that we must engage in a qualitative assessment of ourselves; being conscious of what is lacking in our inner selves — how deficient we may be in Torah study and more so in midot.

Rabbi Goldin 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.

Rabbi Gelman’s thoughts and Rabbi Goldin’s discussion regarding re-evaluating ourselves as to both our Torah knowledge and our midot before Shavuot relate to thoughts of Introspection [noun: the act of looking within oneself] provided in the Chovos Halevovos Cheshbon HaNefesh booklet published lilui nishmas HaRav Chaim Zev ben Avraham Aharon HaLevi, ZT”L on the occasion of the Shloshim, Kislev 5780.

Rabbi Malinowitz wrote on Day 11:

Reflect and make an accounting on if I use my days to serve Hashem or my yetzer. This cheshbon is the classic meaning of the phrase Cheshbon HaNefesh — an accounting.

How do I spend my day, my time in this world? Did I misuse the gifts Hashem has given me? Did I pursue with them spirituality — or narishkeiten? What have I done with these gifts?

Rabbi Malinowitz wrote on Day 24:

Reflect that the Torah and tefillah knowledge of your youth is insufficient. Study the language and interpretations with renewed and higher understanding, remember and review.

We are pretty satisfied if we’ve learned something in the past, review it regularly, and remember it. Wonderful, no?

NO! Says the Chovos Halevovos. You’ve matured, your intelligence has grown more sophisticated, you’ve acquired more depth, a wider perspective, sharper analytical skills.

Do NOT be satisfied with the Chumash as you learned it in fifth grade… With davening as you davened as a 14 year old, with Gemara or hashkafa which you learned decades ago, as you learned them decades ago. Always review and increase the quality of your learning… or your davening… or your Avodos Hashem.

The Chovos Halevovos provides these citings from scripture which seem particularly poignant relating to our times (page 501) :

“Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and imagine themselves clever.” (Chovos Halevovos citing from Tanach – Yeshayahu Perek 5, posuk 21); “For they have rejected the word of G’d — what good is wisdom to them?” (Chovos Halevovos citing from Tanach – Yirmiyahu Perek 8, posuk 9); “For the ways of Hashem are straight, and the upright walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them.” (Chovos Halevovos citing from Tanach – Hoshe’a Perek 14, posuk 10)

Rabbi Gelman concludes (in National Council of Young Israel’s weekly Torah Bulletin of twenty-Nine years ago) :

How pertinent and eternal is the message of Chazal. We live in a technological milieu [noun: surroundings, especially of a social or cultural nature]. The Shulchan Aruch reminds us that an annual probing of one’s inner self and a striving toward spiritual attainment are priorities that must predicate [verb: to proclaim; declare; affirm; assert] [above — this author’s understanding of Rabbi Gelman] all other preoccupations. May this generation be conscious of the necessity of this humbling evaluation. May we together accept the Torah with love and innate sensitivity.

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.

These changes in the development of the psyche of the B’nei Yisrael seem ongoing in our days. To repeat the final two sentences from Rabbi Gelman’s vort from 5755: May this generation be conscious of the necessity of this humbling evaluation. May we together accept the Torah with love and innate sensitivity.

This prayer seems as applicable, if not more so, to the so-called “elites” of political, governing, judicial and military high command echelons, as it is applicable to the masses of B’nei Yisrael.

May it be that our Chayalim emerge totally victorious — eradicating Hamas, their terrorist buddies and the so-called “innocent civilians” of Gaza who joined with Hamas in their murderous deeds, and that the Chayalim return home whole — physically, mentally and spiritually and that the Chayalim Liberate and bring home all remaining hostages. And may we see the restoration of true unity within Am Yisrael.

May we, the B’nei Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently re-settled in Gush Katif, once the IDF, by the Yad Hashem, destructs and eradicates the wild beasts of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, all other terror entities, and if necessary Iran, and that our brethren 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, as well as the buildings of Yishuv Elchanan, all at total government expense. May our Chayalim return from battle unharmed — physically, mentally and spiritually and may all of the hostages brutally taken by the wild beasts of Hamas be liberated and brought home to their families. Baruch Hashem that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard is now in his fourth year at home in Eretz Yisrael and continues in a new chapter in his life. May Esther Yocheved bat Yechiel Avraham have an aliyah in Shemayim and may her spirit and 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 nine 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. May we see, in 5784, the REAL Jews from the Ukraine and Russia as well as the US and Canada, the real Jews via matrilineal descent, make Aliyah enmass — via thorough review by Misrad HaPanim. And may we soon and finally see the total end to the Communist Chinese Wuhan Lab corona virus pandemic and all like viruses and variants. 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.