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by Daneal Weiner
Based on the Torah of Rav Moshe Shapirah.
The first thing in this weeks
is the census of Israel. G-d commands Moshe to take a count of all males, 20 years and older, fit for service and according to their father's house (Gemorah Bava Basra indicates no one older than 60 was counted). Although it is the mother who determines who is a Jew, it is the father by which is determined the ancestral heritage and the tribal affiliation. Which reminds me, the Vilna Gaon said that within the partnership of human creation, it is G-d Who provides the soul, the mother who provides the flesh and blood and the father who provides the bones.
When Yaakov made Yoseph swear not to bury him in Egypt but bring him to Israel, Yoseph responded, "I will do as you say. " He seems to have been answering, "I will follow your instructions," but on a deeper level he responded, "I, myself, will do, for myself, as you say, for myself!" In other words, Yaakov asks Yoseph to bury him in Israel and Yoseph says, "I'm heading there too." What kind of an answer is that?
With the insight from the Vilna Gaon it becomes understandable. Yoseph would also make his brothers swear that when G-d remembers them and takes them out of Egypt that they bring his bones with them! His bones, the contribution from the father! So Yoseph was telling Yaakov, "Not only will I take you, personally, out of Egypt, but even my bones, which are an extension of you, will be taken out of Egypt." Now that’s a good son!
Expanding further, in the grave, the first to decompose is the flesh. The bones take considerably longer but they eventually go. Our Sages say that we have what they call a luz bone, a bit of bone which does not decompose. The luz bone will be the seed from which G-d will give life to the dead in the time of the resurrection. If it's from a bone that at the end of time we will be 'reborn,' it is indeed through the father's house that we stay connected to our ancestral heritage and our tribal traditions. I bet you thought I flew way off into space but I was always right in the topic.
Following the census taking is the layout of the encampment of Israel in the desert. The Midrash says that at Mt. Sinai, Israel saw the heavenly angels stationed around the Throne of Glory and wanted to imitate that formation. Relative to the throne upon which G-d sits, anthropomorphically speaking, is the Mishkan- Sanctuary, where G-d sits here on earth. The Mishkan was the camp's center. To its east were the tents of Moshe and Aharon. On the other three sides was the tribe of Levi, who were charged with the Mishkan's maintenance. Only Moshe and Aaron were in proximity to the Mishkan. The Levites were stationed 1000 amos away (An amos is approx. 1.5-2 ft.) At a distance of 2000 amos from the Mishkan and to all four directions were the remaining tribes of Israel.
The Midrash Pirkai R. Eliezer, explains the significance of the four directions and the spiritual forces each represents. The tribes were stationed where their spiritual attributes could either amplify the good coming in from their direction or protect Israel from the bad. Back in Shemos, during the parshas which dealt with the initial construction of the Mishkan, we saw a little how the Mishkan is a microcosm of the world. Adding our new insight to that old one we see that the spiritual attributes of Israel channel the good and provide protection from evil for the whole world.
The east is where the suns rises. Light is symbolic of Torah. Moshe and Aaron's tents were in the east by the merit of their dissemination of Torah. The east is also the source of the harshest of the four winds. The greater the potential for good always means the greater the potential for evil.
From the west comes the snow, hail, heat and frost. The south is the source of blessing of the rain and dew. And the north is, literally, where the sun does't shine. From the north is the approach of the agents of evil which come into the world. This is physically manifest in that Jerusalem, being on a mountain, has always been attacked from the north. The land north is at a higher elevation and provides the easiest entry into the city.
Looking a bit into the camp of Israel, Yehudah, Yasachar and Zevulun were stationed in the east. Yehudah is the father of the monarchy of Israel. A cursory reading of the prophets makes it very clear the relationship between Yehudah and the east. The king has the greatest ability to elevate the nation to a Torah life or take them away, r'l. It warns in Dvarim 17:18-19, "When he [the king] sits on the throne of his kingdom he shall write for himself two copies of this Torah...It shall be with him and he shall read from it all the days of his life." Soon will descend from Yehudah the Mashiach who will bring every Jew back to a Torah source. So Yehudah was in the east.
Yisachar had the greatest Torah scholars, per capita. Their flag was black and had on it a sun and a moon. The black represents the raven, whose mother does not feed her young. The young cry to G-d and He sends insects flying into their mouths. So too is Yisachar’s open dependence on G-d, shunning work for Torah study. They were Israel’s first Kollel. We see by the census they were 54,400 strong. That’s out of 600,000. About 9%. If only that percentage of Jews were learning in Kollel today. If only that number were observant today!
The sun and moon on their flag represent the mysterious traditions and difficult calculations of the orbits and rotations of the stars and planets which Yisachar mastered.
G-d sent Yisachar's sustenance by way of the third tribe in the east, Zevulun. Their flag was white with a ship. The white was symbolic of the joy of a bride and the ship represented commerce. Even though their earnings came with great effort, like a ship set out on a long journey over hostile waters, they were always happily fulfilling the will of Hashem, supporting the tribe of Yisachar and their own Torah scholars as well.
The Ba'al HaTurim points out an irregularity in the verses. When the Torah list the tribes of each of the four sides, it names a tribe, designated with a direction (ie: to the east was...) and then names two other tribes associated with the first. These other two tribes are introduced with an "and" (ie: "And camped next to..." or "And the tribe of..."). Only Zevulun, the Kollel support, is not introduced by the word “And” (v.2:7). The Ba'al HaTurim brings from the Midrash that this teaches us Zevulun should not be seen as secondary to Yisacher who was just previously mentioned. Zevulun's share will be as great as Yisachar's! Those who financially sacrifice for Torah study are right up there with those who personally sacrifice to do the studying.
This coming week is the Holiday
If I recall correctly, it was exactly 3514 years ago this Friday that we and every other soul of Israel were anxiously awaiting at the foot of Mt. Sinai to witness the Divine revelation and receive the Torah.
There is a Midrash that says G-d went around to every nation of the world and asked them if they wanted the Torah. The nations asked what was in it? G-d answered them with the biggest challenges the Torah presented them. They all rejected it. When G-d came to us we immediately answered "Na'aseh V'Nishma!" "We will do and we will listen."
What if another nation did decide to accept the Torah? And how is it that we are called the chosen people if WE did the choosing? Both questions can be covered with the same answer.
If another nation would have accepted the Torah they would not have been standing next to us at Mt. Sinai. For that only we were chosen. Even if there existed, today, another nation living by the 613 mitsvos, only we have claim to the nation wide prophecy, to the undeniable testimony that withstands the test of time. This would mean that if we fell into argument with them it would not be their word vs. ours. It would be their word vs. Divine national revelation. We are the control group by which all others need measured up, on their own levels. That's what we were chosen for after we said we’d take it.
What we've said many times before but never enough, is that a Jewish holiday is not a memorial or tribute to something that was. What was is alive and vibrant today. The forces Hashem put into the world yesterday or thousands of years ago are still around. His battery doesn't get used up. The effects are strongest when, time wise, we are closest. That's the time to take most advantage of the resource. Our holidays are for us to tap into those sources. Yom Kippur's is for forgiveness. Pesach is for throwing off material burdens. Purim is for protection from our enemies. And Shavuos is for receiving the Torah and became the Jewish nation, yet again.
So please do take advantage of this holy holiday. The custom is to stay up all night learning Torah. If you can't stay up all night than just push yourself as much as you can and you did your best. All year round we tap into Torah but right now we're standing next to the holding tank. Take a drink! Take a swim! It's filtered.
There is a custom of eating dairy meals on Shavuos. There are many allusions to this in the Torah. To mention a few, later in Bamidbar, when Moshe is reviewing the laws of the holidays he says regarding Shavuos (28:26), "Mincha chadasha L'Hashem b'Shavuosaichem." The first letters of the last three words spell the word "chalav"- milk!
King Solomon wrote in Shir haShirim, "The sweetness of Torah drips from your lips, like honey and milk it lies under your tongue." Honey is understandable. It's sweet. What's so great about milk? Ever try to feed a human being the exact same food every day, three times a day for 2 years? 1 year? 6 months? Who could tolerate it? A nursing baby could! Drinks the same milk every time. Our Sages tell us that when a baby nurses, it's mother's milk tastes like it's the first time, every time. This makes milk a very appropriate symbol for again receiving the Torah for the first time.
Wishing everyone a Shabbat Shalom and chag matoke v’somayach.
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