Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig
PARSHAT BAMIDBAR/ SHAVU'OTVayikra (Numbers) 1:1-4:20
Haftorah - I Samuel 20:18-42
Our Parsha is almost always read the Shabbat before the festival of Shavu'ot.
The beginning of our Parsha reviews the commandment given to Moshe that he
should take a census of the Children of Israel.
This census was taken after the erection of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) only
seven months after the sin of the Golden Calf when the previous census was
taken. In fact, Rashi (acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, France:
1040-1105) points out that in the first two years in the desert Hashem
counted Israel often as a display of His great love for them!
The Ramban (acronym for Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman [Nachmanides], Gerona,
Spain, 1194-1270) approaches this census from another angle. S'u Et Rosh,
the Hebrew words for "take a census" (literally, lift up a head), can have
two possible associations;
In Parshat Shemini after the death of Nadav and Avihu, the sons of Aharon, when discussing the inauguration of the Tabernacle the Torah says; "Kirvu S'u Et Achichem - Approach, and lift up your brothers..." (Vayikra [Leviticus] 10:4)
The Ramban explains that Moshe believed that either he or his brother
Aharon would be the instruments of Tabernacle's sanctification. However,
after the deaths of Nadav and Avihu Hashem indicated that their deaths were
the act of sanctification, as it says;
We find with Yosef's interpretation of the butler's dream:
In other words, the word S'u can have opposite meanings, in one context it can mean to elevate one's status, in another, to lower one's status. We see from this that the Torah can only be understood when the Torah Sh'Baal Peh (the Oral Tradition) is a integral part of the learning process.
This week we will observe and celebrate the festival of Shavu'ot (Pentecost) when we commemorate our receiving both the Oral and Written Torah at Mt. Sinai. The Torah reading on the first day of Shavu'ot is taken from Shemot (Exodus) 19:1 - 20:33 and includes the reading of the Ten Utterances (Commandments).
In the Second Commandment, Hashem informs us that if we follow other gods, He is a "jealous G-d" who "...will visit (Pakod) the sins of the father to the third and fourth generations, for those that hate Me." (Shemot 20:5)
This verse is one of the most misinterpreted passages in the Torah. The Christian world defines Hashem as a harsh and vengeful god because of their misunderstanding of these words. All of the major commentaries on this passage, without exception, point out that this process will be incurred only towards "those that hate Me."
What does that mean? Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra (poet, liturgical composer and
commentator 1089 - 1164) writes that in the Book of Ezekial it clearly
Therefore, the sins of the parent cannot effect the children unless they hate Hashem and follow in the ways of the parent. The Ibn Ezra continues to teach that here the word Pakod means to remember as in; "And Hashem remembered (Pakad) Sarah..." (B'rayshit 21:1)
In other words, when the Children of Israel worship other gods, Hashem will store it in His memory and if three or four generations continue in that way then He will exact retribution. However, if the children return to the ways of Hashem and give up their false gods, Hashem will forgive even the sins of the parent. What greater sign of mercy and kindness can there be?
So how do we deal with the phrase El Kana (a jealous G-d)? The Haktav V'HaKabalah (Rabbi Ya'akov Tzvi Mecklenburg, Germany, 1786 - 1865) comments that the word El can mean G-d or power. It describes Hashem as having power over His passion of jealousy. Hashem controls His passion and waits to see how the succeeding generations behave.
I have discussed examples of two words that can have different meanings depending on the context. It is the Torah Sh'Baal Peh that keeps us from erring when learning Torah. Simply reading the written words does not always enlighten the reader to the true meaning. The Mitzvot of Mezuzah, or Tzitzit (wearing fringes on four cornered garments), or Shabbat, which we all observe in one way or another, cannot be understood even superficially, without the aid of our Oral Tradition. The Mitzvot of Giyur (conversion) Gitten (divorce) or Kiddushin (marriage) also need the wisdom of three thousand years of Jewish scholarship to properly comprehend.
Again this Shavu'ot the State of Israel is in the midst of a predicament. The issue of "Who Is A Jew" continues to split us apart. Name calling, harassment, and blackmail are still being used to influence all Knesset members to capitulate to either direction. We must never lose sight of our Jewish heritage of Torah and the effect it can have on mankind. We are the People of the Book, the light unto the nations, a kingdom of priests and a Holy nation. Our squabbling and infighting has distracted us from our true mission.
By controlling our passions we can become god-like. This, then, is the message of the Ten Commandments and Shavu'ot: control, dedication, tolerance and obedience. Hashem is looking at us at this crucial time in history and examining our intentions. We, the Jewish people regardless of what position we take, must ask ourselves: are we fighting His battles or our own?
During these final days of the counting of the Omer, we recall that the lack of Derech Eretz (respect) which destroyed the 24,000 students of Rebbi Akiva during this period, was a direct consequence of Sinat Chinam (deliberate hatred) that caused our Temple to be destroyed just one generation earlier. Now is the time to learn from our mistakes and control the passions that fuel the fires of our uncertainty. We have a chance to elevate or to denigrate, let's not make the same mistake once again.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Samayach,
Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig
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