Parsha Potpourri: Parshas Bamidbar


Ish al diglo b’osos l’beis avosam yachanu B’nei Yisroel mineged saviv l’ohel moed yachanu (2:2)

Our Sages teach that everything written in the Torah is recorded because of its relevance to every Jew in every generation. Why are the seemingly trivial details which dominate Parshas Bamidbar, such as the arrangement of the encampments of the various tribes, significant and relevant to us?

Rav Aharon Kotler suggests that although this information seems like historical facts with no practical application to our lives, the parsha is in fact teaching us a very relevant lesson: the value that Judaism places on seder (organization). Instead of allowing the Jewish people to set up their own camping arrangements based on their personal preferences, the Torah insists that they specifically encamp together with other members of their tribe and additionally prescribes the positions of the various tribes relative to one another. This arrangement was in effect for the duration of their 40-year sojourn in the wilderness.

Rashi writes in Parshas Emor (Vayikra 24:10) that the blasphemer was the son of Shulamis bas Divri and the Egyptian taskmaster that Moshe slew. Because his mother was descended from Dan, he attempted to dwell among the tribe of Dan, but they refused him because his father was not from their tribe. Although one person camping out of place (which was still the tribe of his mother) would seem to be insignificant, the tribe of Dan understood the critical value of preserving order and refused to allow him to camp among them. Although the particular laws about the formations and configurations of the encampments do not currently apply to us, the lesson about the value of serving Hashem in an orderly and disciplined fashion is one that we can each apply in our daily lives.

V’nasah Ohel Moed machaneh ha’Levi’im b’soch ha’machaneh ka’asher yachanu kein yisa’u ish al yado l’digleihem (2:17)

In Parshas Bamidbar we are taught that during their 40-year sojourn in the wilderness, the Jewish people had fixed locations for their encampments. Each of the tribes had a specific location relative to the other tribes where its members were to encamp. Three of the tribes encamped in the north, three in the south, three in the west, and three in the east. The tribe of Levi, together with the Ark, encamped in the middle of the circle formed by the other tribes. What lesson can be learned from this setup?

The Chofetz Chaim explains that just as the heart is located in the middle of the body, so too the Ark which contained the Torah and Tablets was located in the middle of the camp so that it would be equidistant from every Jew. Similarly, the Bimah on which the Torah scroll is placed when it is being read is located in the middle of the synagogue. This teaches us that the Torah is equally accessible to every Jew.

The Chofetz Chaim adds that our Sages teach (Taanis 31a) that in the World to Come, the righteous will form a circle to dance around Hashem, who will be in the middle of the circle. Although Jews seem serve Hashem in ways radically different from one another, as long as their intentions are for the sake of Heaven and they keep the mitzvos, they will all celebrate together. At that time we will discover that the Jew who seems diametrically opposed to us is in reality on the other side of the circle but just as close to Hashem.

V’eileh toldos Aharon u’Moshe b’yom dibeir Hashem es Moshe b’Har Sinai (3:1)

The Torah purports to list the descendants of Moshe and Aharon, but proceeds to list only Aharon’s children. Rashi quotes the Gemora in Sanhedrin (19b), which derives from here that whoever teaches Torah to others is considered as if he gave birth to them. Because Moshe taught Torah to Aharon’s children, the Torah considers them as though they were his own progeny. The Gemora similarly teaches that whoever raises an orphan in his home is considered to have given birth to him. This latter statement is used by the great Chacham Tzvi (93) as the basis for a fascinating legal question.

The Gemora in Sanhedrin (65b) records that through the use of mystical Divine names taught in the esoteric Sefer Yetzirah, it is possible to produce a creature commonly known as a golem. In fact, the Chacham Tzvi writes that it was known that his grandfather had also produced such a golem, but when it continued to grow and become even more powerful, his grandfather was scared that it would end up destroying the world. He therefore had no choice but remove the Divine name which was attached to its forehead in order to destroy it and cause it to return to dust, but as he was doing so, the golem managed to strike him and left a painful scratch on his face.

Since the Gemora teaches that somebody who raises an orphan is considered to have given birth to him due to his investment in the child, the Chacham Tzvi questions whether a righteous person who creates a golem might also be viewed as having given birth to it, to the extent that perhaps the golem is classified as a Jew and may be counted as one of the 10 men required to constitute a minyan.

The Gemora records that Rava created a golem and sent it to Rav Zeira. Upon realizing that it was a golem when it was unable to speak, Rav Zeira ordered the creature to return to dust, which it did. The Chacham Tzvi explains that Rav Zeira was permitted to “kill” the golem, because the prohibition against murder is only applicable to people who grow and are formed inside of a woman. Nevertheless, he argues that Rav Zeira would not have destroyed the golem if it served any productive purpose, such as being counted for a minyan, so from the fact that Rav Zeira was so readily willing to eradicate the golem, it must be that it cannot in fact be used as part of a minyan.

Additionally, he notes that the mystic Rav Moshe Cordovero writes that although a golem is alive in the technical sense and looks and acts like a person other than its inability to speak, it lacks a neshama or even the lower and more basic levels of a soul known as ruach and nefesh, in which case it certainly would not be on the spiritual level required to be counted as part of a prayer service. As far-fetched as this entire discussion may seem, the Mishnah Berurah (55:4) took it quite seriously and, citing the Chacham Tzvi, explicitly writes that a golem may not be counted toward a minyan.

Ki li kol bechor b’yom hakosi chol bechor b’Eretz Mitzrayim hikdashti li chol bechor b’Yisroel me’adam ad beheima li yih’yu ani Hashem (3:13)

Until the sin of the golden calf, the role of offering sacrifices to Hashem on private altars was performed by the first-born males. Because the Levites proved their dedication to Hashem by refusing to take part in the sin of the golden calf and by punishing those who did (Shemos 32:26-29), the Divine service was transferred to them.

Hashem introduces the concept of replacing the first-born males with the Levites by stating that all first-born Jews became sanctified to Him on the day that He killed the first-born Egyptians. The verse concludes, “li yih’yu – they shall be Mine.” Since the first-borns were now being replaced by the Levites, wouldn’t it have been more accurate to state “they were mine?” In what way will they be sanctified to Hashem in the future?

Rav Chaim Kanievsky answers based on the fascinating opinion of the Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh (3:45), who writes that although the first-borns lost the right to perform the Divine service after the sin of the golden calf, in the Messianic era they will once again be able to serve in the third Temple. This is alluded to in our verse, which hints that although they were replaced by the Levites at this time, there will come a time in the future when they will once again be sanctified to Hashem and able to serve Him.

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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1)     Rashi writes (1:1) that Hashem frequently counts the Jewish people to make His love for them known. Here, after He came to rest His Presence among them, He counted them once again. If the Mishkan was erected and Hashem began to dwell there on Rosh Chodesh Nissan, why did He wait an entire month until Rosh Chodesh Iyar (1:1) to count them? (Rav Eliyahu Mizrachi, Sifsei Chochomim, Tzeidah L’Derech, Oznayim L’Torah)

2)     Why was Aharon instructed (1:3) to assist with the census taken in Parshas Bamidbar but not with the census taken in Parshas Ki Sisa, which was done exclusively by Moshe (Shemos 30:11-12)? (Baal HaTurim)

3)     In relating the number of Jews in each tribe, the Torah records that the population of each tribe was a multiple of 100, with the exception of Gad, whose population was a multiple of 50 (1:25). Was it really possible that every tribe had such a precisely even number of Jews, or did the Torah round the census to the nearest 50 or 100? (Meshech Chochmah 3:16, Derech Sicha, Taima D’Kra Hosafos, Shaarei Aharon, Shiras Dovid)

© 2011 by Oizer Alport.