MAY 30-31, 2003 29 IYAR 5763
Day 44 of the Omer
"Count the heads of all the Children of Israel." (Bemidbar 1:2)
Whenever the Jewish people were counted, they had to give a certain coin which, by counting that coin, we could know the number of people. Once, in the time of King David, the people themselves were counted and a great plague ensued. Even today, when we count individuals for a minyan or the like, we don't say, "one, two, three..." but rather we say words of a pasuk such as "hoshi'ah et amecha..." through which we all know the total number. Why is there such an emphasis on not counting people by number?
Rabenu Bahya explains that when people are included in a group, they have the merit of the entire group and thereby are protected. When an individual becomes separated by being counted, then he is on his own, and he must have his own protection. Even when we pray for sick people, we always include the individual with the entire nation by saying, "betoch she'ar cholei Yisrael - Among all of the sick in Israel," so that they should have the merit of the whole nation. This should teach us that although we are all individuals, unique and separate, our strength lies in our being part of a greater whole, the Jewish people. We should try not to stand out and not separate ourselves from community involvement. By joining together in the synagogue's programs, such as minyan, classes and activities, we will have the blessing of the multitudes in addition to our own zechut. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Shmuel Choueka
"The Children of Israel shall encamp, each man by his banner." (Bemidbar 2:2)
The main theme of our perashah is the counting of the Jewish people. At first the Torah counts all the tribes, and ends by giving the total number of each tribe. The names of the heads of the tribes are also enumerated. Later, the perashah tells us about the flags that each tribe had. Each tribe had its own flag with a unique theme. Each tribe also had a specific place to encamp relative to the Mishkan.
Rabbi Shimon Schwab notices something unusual when the Torah relates to us the facts about the flags. The Torah repeats the number of people in each tribe, and the name of the head of each tribe. Why repeat these numbers all over again?
His answer is based on Rashi's comment in the beginning of the perashah. Hashem counts the Jewish people all the time because of His great love for His people. Here, when the Torah tells about the flags, we are given another counting, because Hashem saw something here that made Him love us even more. Hashem had commanded that the Levites will camp around the Mishkan (1:52), and the rest of the Israelites will camp further away (2:2). Later, the Torah tells us that the Children of Israel did all that they were told to do (2:54). Of course, all the people wanted to camp very close to the Mishkan, the resting place of the Shechinah. However Hashem said that they must back away from the Mishkan to allow the tribe of Levi to come right next to the Mishkan. Each tribe was then positioned with its flag in a place further away than it had been. The Torah tells us that they did exactly that, and never complained. Imagine if you had a perfect up-front seat in shul, and then you were told to move to behind the tebah. Not only that, but you had to give your seat to someone else. It would not be easy. However these great people felt no anger or indignation, since this was the will of Hashem. They did not complain about something which seemed like a distancing from Hashem. This made Hashem love them even more. Therefore we are told of another counting, which reflects Hashem's love for us. True humility, rather than creating distance, brings us closest to Hashem. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Reuven Semah
"And Hashem spoke to Moshe in the wilderness of Sinai" (Bemidbar 1:1)
The Midrash states that the Torah was given through the media of fire, water and wilderness. The commentators differ in communicating the message of this Midrash. Rav M. Shapiro suggests that these three elements reflect the magnitude of Klal Yisrael's devotion to Hashem to the point of their self-sacrifice.
Fire alludes to the fiery cauldron into which Abraham Abinu was thrown because of his staunch belief in Hashem. This, however, only illustrates self-sacrifice in the part of the individual Jew. Water, which symbolizes Klal Yisrael's passage through the Yam Suf, represents our unwavering devotion to Hashem as a whole nation. Yet, these two examples alone still do not provide sufficient proof of Klal Yisrael's loyalty. Surrounded by threatening animals, Klal Yisrael traveled in a wilderness devoid of nourishment for forty years. Throughout this period, they displayed their constant, unstinting love for Hashem. Mesirat nefesh, which is demonstrated by this threefold pattern of individual, collective and constant devotion to Hashem, is evidence of the strength of our nation's bond to Hashem.
(Peninim on the Torah)
Question: Why is each paragraph of Shalom Alechem read three times?
Answer: The angels are concerned about three things, each of which honors the Shabbat: lit candles, a set table, and a bed (couch) that is made.
Consequently, we read each paragraph three times to emphasize that the three were done. (Excerpted from Siddur Abir Yaacob, published by Sephardic Press)
It is customary to study Pirkei Abot (Ethics of the Fathers) during the six weeks between Pesah and Shabuot, one chapter every Shabbat.
"Torah is acquired through study" (Abot 6:6)
Why is it necessary to list this as one of the forty-eight qualities necessary to acquire Torah? Isn't it self-evident?
Based on the pasuk ["The Torah] shall not be withdrawn from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your offspring, nor from the mouth of your offspring's offspring, said Hashem from this moment and forever" (Yeshayahu 59:21), the Gemara (Baba Mesia 85a) says that if someone is a Torah scholar, and his son is a Torah scholar, and his son's son is a Torah scholar, the Torah will not cease from his offspring forever. Rabbi Yirmiya said, "Henceforth, Torah naturally comes around to its home" - place of accommodation.
To dispel the erroneous interpretation that one need no longer study since his predecessors were Torah scholars, the Mishnah lists as the first and foremost prerequisite, "talmud - actual study." One must exert himself to personally learn Torah and cannot rely on previous generations, as stated clearly above, (Abot 2:12): "Prepare yourself for the study of Torah, for it does not come to you through inheritance." The assurance mentioned in the Gemara means that to the extent that one makes his own efforts, the Torah of his forbears will help him approach their level of scholarship.
The analogy of "Torah coming back to its place of accommodation" - is to allude that one can enter a place of accommodation only if he is permitted entry, but if the door is locked, he has to look elsewhere. When offspring give Torah a place in their home - i.e. study it - they will benefit from their predecessors' relationship with Torah. (Vedibarta Bam)
This week's Haftarah: Shemuel I 20:18-42
The usual haftarah for this perashah begins with the prophet Hoshea saying that the nation of Israel shall be as plentiful as the sand of the sea. This follows the theme of our perashah which enumerates the numbers of each tribe of B'nei Yisrael.
However, since tomorrow is Rosh Hodesh, we read a special haftarah known as "Mahar Hodesh - tomorrow is Rosh Hodesh." This is because the haftarah begins with a conversation between King David and Yehonatan, son of Shaul, which took place on the day before Rosh Hodesh.
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