Bamidbar: Numbers 1:1 – 4:20
The father of them all
The Torah says, “These are the generations of Aaron and Moses” (Num. 3:1).
The verse then lists Aaron’s descendants but not those of Moses, yet we know that Moses definitely did have children.
What has happened that the verse refers to generations but says nothing about Moses’ own progeny?
Rashi finds a lesson in this wording. He tells us that whoever teaches someone Torah is regarded as if he gave them birth. Moses, therefore, having taught Torah to many other people and their children, is the virtual father of them all.
One is reminded of Mr Chips, the boys’ school teacher and headmaster whose real name was Chipping. People asked, “Did he have any children?” and the answer was, “Yes, many of them… and they were all his boys!”
If I may add a personal note, I remember the day when I erroneously called my Hebrew teacher “Dad”, and then got embarrassed. My teacher said, “You have just paid me a compliment. Calling me ‘Dad’ indicates that I must have succeeded in teaching you Torah!”
Different but the same
The Book we begin this Shabbat has two names, like other books of the Torah.
It is B’midbar, “In the Wilderness”, and in English “Numbers”.
The names are unconnected. B’midbar is the first significant Hebrew word in the Book; Numbers is the theme of the national census with which the Book begins.
There is a great deal we could write about the Hebrew name, but let us focus on the English name.
Imagine if you were Moses and you looked out at your people.
What a massive crowd! As far as his eye could see there were the tents of Israel, and if the population were counted as a whole, including women and children as well as males, there must have been at least two million of them.
Every rabbi becomes a Moses on Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur when he looks out at his large attendance. But impressed as he is with the size of the crowd, he knows that everyone is unique, independent, separate, unique – and precious in the sight of God.
That lesson is emphasised over and over again in Jewish tradition – for example on Pesach, when the four sons show us that every individual is different; and on Sukkot, when the four plants, though all different, are all held together.
Modern terminology would say that the word for this is pluralism, and it’s certainly true that our people is a plurality – but we learn another thing from our tradition which questions whether pluralistic is the right word.
Like the arms of the menorah which are all attached to the central shaft and all incline towards the centre, so the Jewish people are bound by one emotion and commitment. They are all different but all the same.
10 cobblers make a minyan
The sidra deals with the census of the Children of Israel in the wilderness.
From the human point of view the census has an obvious importance. We need to know how many people make up our population and whether our numbers are growing or declining.
But it is God who commands the census, and He is all-knowing – so why does He need the numerical information from the census?
Rashi explains that the census was a mark of God’s love. It wasn’t for God Himself that the numbers had to be ascertained, but in order to teach His creatures a lesson.
That lesson is that whichever place an individual occupies in the community list, God still loves him or her exactly the same as anyone else.
A Jewish saying says that nine rabbis do not make up a minyan but ten cobblers do.
There are places where the shammas stands outside the shule when they need a tenth man for minyan, and nobody complains if the tenth man he brings in is a High Court judge – or a street sweeper. God loves them all.
© 1997-2018 OzTorah
by Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple AO RFD http://www.oztorah.com/