Thursday, June 9, 2016

Bamidbar “in the desert”

Bamidbar “in the desert”

Numbers 1:1-4:20


Just as this week’s portion starts with the beginning of a new sefer, the people of Israel also are having a new episode that will be telling us about their wondering experiences in the wilderness. This Torah portion begins with the census of the Israelite tribes in the first chapter verses 1 thru 46 and later on with the description of the Israelite camp on how they were to assemble around the Tabernacle. Now this will be one of four times that the Torah tells us that a census was take up for the Israelites, here’s a list of the times that they we’re counted: (1) when they went down to Egypt (Deuteronomy 10:22); (2) when they went up out of Egypt (Exodus 12:37); (3) at the first census in Numbers (Numbers 1:1–46); (4) at the second census in Numbers (Numbers 26:1–65).

A Jewish midrash explains, this time that God instructed Moses to record for them the precise month, day of the month, year, region, and city in which God lifted them up. Therefore Numbers 1:1 says: “And the Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai,” indicating the region; “in the tent of meeting,” indicating the province; “in the second year,” indicating the precise year; “in the second month,” indicating the precise month; “on the first day of the month,” indicating the precise day of the month; and “after they were come out of Egypt,” indicating the era. The specificity of Numbers 1:1 is taught that when God is about to make Israel great, God explicitly states the place, the day, the month, the year, and the era, as Numbers 1:1 says, “in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tent of meeting, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they were come out of the land of Egypt.” A good example of this is found with the raising of Esther to be queen, we read in Esther 2:16, “So Esther was taken to king Ahasuerus into his house royal in the tenth month, which is the month Tevet, in the seventh year of his reign.” Now contrast God did not state when God created the generation of the Flood and did not state when God removed them from the world, except insofar as Genesis 7:11 reports, “on the same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up.” The same fate befell the generation of the Dispersal after the Tower of Babel and the generation of Egypt; Scripture does not indicate when God created them or when they passed away.

The midrash continued that God then said to the Israelites (rereading Numbers 1:2): “Raise to greatness all the congregation of the children of Israel.” (Interpreting “raise the head” — שְׂאוּ אֶת-רֹאשׁ — to mean “raise to greatness.”) (Numbers Rabbah 1:1.)

Hashem’s original intentions have always been to show favor to the decedents of Abraham and this will be done in a methodical approach. Now that the people of Israel have been counted, it would only follow to organize them as to be one unit prepared for whatever they’ll be encountering next. In the following verses we see Hashem appointing leaders to represent their appropriate families and have these family units began to be arranged accordantly in the camp. The arrangement is based on the mishkan occupying the central location; with the Levites surrounding it (Moses and the kohanim camped at the entrance on the east).The twelve tribes were divided into four groups of three, each of which had its own standard. The tribe of Judah was prominent and guarded the entrance to the inner camp of the Levites at the eastern (main) gate. One additional thing that was in the mist of the camp and accompanied the Israelites through their wanderings in the desert is what is commonly associated to a midrash and oral teachings of that of a well of fresh water, known as Miriam’s Well that was also part of the camp of Israel. Midrash points out that the well of Miriam was a source of spiritual and moral strength for the people as they wandered their weary way toward the Land of Promise. The only reason I signal Miriam’s Well out, is to see that we can glean a lot of additional information from oral teachings that we don’t always have in the written form.  

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