bamidbar v’shavout

This week we start the book of Bamidbar, or Numbers. This first parsha (portion) is also called Bamidbar and is from 1:1 – 4:20. It begins with a census of Israel in the Wilderness. I want to try to share some of what I’ve learned about this parsha (it’s not much).

I have a few new readers and I will try to define non standard English terms. I feel very guilty that I have been lazy lately and not done so. Soon I hope to put together a small page of useful links and will try to define any words I use today. I think that in general google (and wikipedia) do give some decent results in the first page returned, at least to give a brief overview of the terms. They aren’t perfect but are a good starting point. I have tried to link to various explanatory text where I could. It may or may not be at the first mention of the item. I know. Bad-scholar.

What is Bamidbar about? Several classical commentators wrote summaries to the books in the introductions to their commentaries. Nachmanidies (Ramban) wrote that it consists of detailed instructions of the tabernacle whereas the previous book Vayikra (Leviticus) explained the laws of the sacrifices. Abravanel provides what I think is a beautiful summary of the Torah “to this point”: Bereshit (Genesis)- ancestry and origins of Irseal from creation to the exile in Mitzrayim (Egypt). Sh’mot (Exodus)- is about exile and redemption. Vayikra (Leviticus)- initiates Israel into sanctity, purity, and into the service of the Sanctuary and the Cohen (priests). Bamidbar (Numbers)- relates leading of the people (by Moses and Aaron) and why it took 40 years to enter the land promised to them.

Ok. Now I’ll attempt to move into this week’s specific reading, 1:1-4:20.

Why does Bamidbar begin with a census? Why these numbers, in such detail? Why does hashem need it such? Is it to determine military might? If so, then why are the Levites counted? Looking again to Ramban, he suggests that the census was a personal and individual one which impressed upon Israel the “value and self worth of each and every soul- a unique specimen of divine creativity”. Additionally it is about the miracle of our existence, after pestilence and plague, the children of Israel had no succumbed to suffering and persecution on the contrary we increased and multiplied.

sources: Leibowitz, Nehama. (5740/1980) Studies in Bamidbar (Numbers). Aryeh Newman, translator. The World Zionist Organization: Jerusalem.
Judaica Press Tanach with Rashi

In just over a week we will find ourselves in the holiday of Shavout (or Shavous, there are a few other permutations based upon how you choose to pronounce and spell things). I find it a very beautiful holiday (three reasons why). I also know that today I will not do it justice so I’ll provide a few links and send you on your way. :)
Levine, Dr. Yael. “Addressing the Women First,” JOFA Journal, VI, 4, 2007, 11. (pdf)

שׁבּת שׁלום