by Rabbi Heshy Grossman
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"And all the people gathered on the first of the second month, revealing
the relationship to their families, by their fathers' homes, according to
the number of names, by head, from twenty years old and upward."
"They brought their documents of lineage, and witnesses to the assumption of patrimony, relating each individual to their particular tribe." (Rashi, ad. loc.)
"Perhaps it was necessary to provide an assumption of patrimony so that there be no suspicion of Mamzerus...." (Ohr HaChaim, ad. loc.)
Every Jew was counted, all of Israel clearly delineated, each family and tribe camped in a place of their own. In order to remove suspicion, every individual provided proof of lineage, meriting a place in the desert camp that hosted the presence of G-d.
This is quite puzzling.
Was it necessary for Moshe Rabbeinu and Aharon HaKohen to prove that they were not Mamzerim? Was their mother actually suspect of adultery, G-d forbid?
Could we imagine asking a contemporary Gadol for evidence of his lineage, or proof that he is not a Mamzer?
Certainly, we are not dealing with ordinary distrust. Rather, this procedure was a necessary for the continued presence of the Shechinah in the Machaneh of the Bnai Yisrael.
Let us explain.
"When G-d brings His presence to rest, He does so only on those families in Israel with appropriate lineage." (Kiddushin 70b)
G-d's presence demands clarity.
A commonly-held notion suggests that Judaism promotes a blind acceptance of religious credo, lauding those who sheepishly follow rabbinic decree. While humbling one's self before authority may be praiseworthy, foolish ignorance is certainly no cause for adulation.
A foggy and confused faith is an outgrowth of blurry thinking.
The presence of G-d is not something subject to doubt.
It was not suspicion that made the declaration of lineage necessary. It was the need to dispel even the slightest possibility of doubt.
True belief in G-d cannot be the outcome of probable statistics, a most likely option. It is a natural result of the pure clarity of Torah thought, a study wherein the One truth is self-evident, in all its varied manifestations.
When we say the Shechina was present in the Midbar, we are not reciting an article of faith. Rather, this reflects the unparalleled wisdom of the desert generation, where truth was palpable and G-d's presence could not be denied. Hence, the requirement to test the purity of every Jew, rendering moot the mere possibility of question. Each individual was undeniably a member of G-d's chosen nation.
While general knowledge follows a predictable pattern of hypothesis and experimentation, our experience with G-d was present and tangible. This demand for clarity is still true and attainable, even in this modern age.
Let us explain how this is achieved.
A neighbor of mine has two daughters, Tehila and Nechama, who are identical twins.
I asked Nechama: "How do you know that you are Nechama? Maybe your mother got confused one day, thinking that you are Nechama, but, in reality, you are Tehila!"
She laughed, thinking my question quite funny. Being all of five years old, it was difficult for her to express why, but, she certainly had no doubts as to her identity.
Why is that? How does she know for sure?
Imagine this: while looking for our car in a parking lot, we approach a vehicle that is the same color, make and model. How would we determine that the car is ours? Generally, we would utilize external indications, a familiar item on the dashboard, or a dent under the left fender, unique signs known only to the vehicle's owner.
Let us say now that we were searching for our mother in a crowd. In the distance, we see a woman of similar appearance, wearing clothing of the same color. Do we determine identity using the same methods as our search for the car?
'You can't be my mother, because your hair is a bit shorter.'
Of course not.
Certain things are one of a kind. Requiring no description, they are recognized with clarity for what they are.
Identity too, is fixed and immutable. We need no proof that we are who we claim to be.
Here is the difference: Physical items are distinguished only by their external characteristics. Having no essence other than their material being, there is no other way to separate one article from another.
In a sense, everything in the physical world is the same, with minor variations of color and style. For this reason, people strive so hard for a sense of individual pride, something by which they stand out in a crowd (or on the freeway). They are sadly unaware that physical posessions are all cut from the same cloth, a nicer car or home can never provide a true sense of individual accomplishment.
Spiritual entities, on the other hand, are one of a kind. While the dulling sameness of the physical world condemns it to oblivion, the unique mark of spiritual achievement assures that it will never be forgotten.
Hence, our relationship with people, each one a unique individual, is recognized on its own, with no need to adduce external evidence of identity. All the more so, our connection to G-d. Having no material dimension, it stands alone in the world, unmatched and unparalleled.
To the one who has made this relationship a part of his life, G-d's presence is clear and unquestioned, eternal and unforgettable. As a believing Jew recites each day: 'Hear O Israel, Hashem is our Lord, Hashem is One'.
Why do all nations have flags?
Perhaps, one can understand why years ago sailors at sea longed to see a friendly vessel, or soldiers at war rallied around their country's symbol, but how does one explain the traditional banners and colors of every college football team?
A flag defines identity. Warriors respond with a burst of energy upon sighting the flag, kindling the spirit for which they are willing to die, a national identity that grants purpose to their individual lives. Each person needs the sense of ego that promotes pride and self-respect, the flag provides its followers with an identity bigger than their insignificant selves.
At times, this flag consciousness goes a bit too far. I remember traveling in Atlanta and seeing the ubiquitous red banners of the University of Georgia Bulldogs, that state's favorite team. Is it not pitiful that thousands respond to the sign that wakens something deep inside their brain: a picture of a snarling red bulldog, commanding: 'Bark, if you like dem Dawgs!'. Why a human being should identify with an imaginary dog has yet to be explained.
Klal Yisrael has their own flags, one for each tribe.
Originating with the blessings of Ya'akov Avinu, the Jewish people became aware of an inner sense of self that transcends the pettiness of worldly vanities, superseding the imposition of material concerns. Conscious of their true identity, they capably resisted the lure of a world that promised fame and fortune, loyal for generations to the vision of the desert, the presence of G-d.
A German officer approaches a Jew during the Second World War with the following proposal: I am willing to spare your life on the following condition: you must agree to become a German. You will join the Nazi Party and follow all orders. You must forget your previous life, changing your citizenship, religion, and way of thinking.
Let us suppose that as an act of desperation, the Jew accepts this offer, surviving the war and living out the rest of his days as a German national. Has this person gained something, or lost?
He may be alive, but he has given up something far more important.
He has sold himself, losing his very identity.
Isn't that something? A Jew would rather die as a Jew than live as a German!
Because one's identity is forever, clear and undeniable, more precious than anything the physical world can possibly offer.
The Torah belongs to those who know who they are. The Mitzvos of the Torah reflect our innermost being, to reject them is to deny one's self. To sin is to masquerade as an alien being, lost to one's nation, and bereft of true identity.
The Torah is given to those who know their lineage, aware of the inner truth that cannot be crossed. They remain proudly loyal to the vision of the prophets, disregarding the call of the beckoning nations, secure in the knowledge that no promise can match the lasting message of their eternal soul.
"Shuvi Shuvi HaShulamis, Shuvi Shuvi V'Nechezeh Bach..." - 'Come to us!', the nations call, simulating our flag, and pledging full reward. 'Come to us, and you will be happy, tasting the pleasures of our world!'
"......Mah Techezu BaShulamis KiMecholas HaMachanaim!?" - 'What can you possibly show us?', we respond, 'Can you match the camp in the desert, the serenity of eternal reward?'
"Ani Yeshenah V'Libi Er" - "I am asleep, but my heart stirs". So cry the Jewish people, lost and wandering in a faraway land. G-d is the heart of every Jew, and while He patiently plans His imminent return, we faithfully abide by His everlasting word, fulfilling the yearning of our immortal souls.
Any questions or comments? Please address them to grossman @actcom.co.il
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