This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Bamidbar (5768)
This week we read the first Torah portion in the book of Numbers which is called Bamidbar. Bamidbar means 'In the desert'.
It is also called 'Numbers' (Pikudim) because it begins with the counting of the Jews.
It tells of the harrowing experiences of Moses and the Jews (more often than not Moses versus the Jews) in the forty years they wandered in the desert before entering the Holy Land.
This was a time of trials and tribulations for the Jewish people and their main trial was....themselves.
Before the Exodus, 4/5 of them died in the plague of darkness because, despite all the miracles, they didn't want to leave Egypt. Then at the 'Red' Sea they wanted to return. At Mount Sinai, just days after G-d told them not to worship idols they actually made the Golden Calf and so it continued time and time again.
So it's clear why this forth book of the Bible is entitled 'In the Desert' because everything in it happened in the desert.
But it's not so clear why it's called 'Numbers'. Counting is something Moses did only at the beginning of the book.
Even more, it's not so clear why they had to be counted at all, after all, G-d certainly knew how many people there were and Moses, as a true leader, also probably did.
To understand this here is a story (HaChozrim Btshuva, by Y. Klapholtz pg.162)
Once a young Chassid came to the great Rabbi Yisroel of Ruzin to ask for advice; he had serious complaints about his wife and, although he realized the severity of divorce he felt he couldn't stand to live another day with her.
The Rabbi listened as the young man enumerated details of their marriage that were sound and justified reasons for separation and his only reply was "I would like to tell you a story".
The young man was all ears before the holy Tzadik:
"Once there was a rich Jew with a crippled daughter. She could get around with crutches but her blemish did not exactly attract suitors. So, being a businessman, he took a bag of money and set out to find her a husband.
He went to the best Yeshiva (Torah Academy) approached the Rosh Yeshiva (Dean), gave him a nice donation and told him the truth. He was looking for a G-d fearing, intelligent scholar as a match for his daughter who, although she was physically imperfect, had an impeccable, charming personality.
In addition whoever married her would be free to learn Torah uninterruptedly forever and never lack anything in the world.
A sharp, handsome, G-d fearing young man, who we will call Yehuda, was found. He agreed to meet the man's daughter and a few weeks later, after several meetings, they became engaged and shortly thereafter got married.
Their first few years together were like heaven on earth. They got along like two doves. He sat and learned Torah almost the entire day while she tended to the home and, eventually, their babies and even had time for some communal affairs.
But it was literally too good to last. His father-in-law, in his desire to do his best, dressed the young scholar son-in-law in the fanciest garments, fed him the best cuisine (kosher, of course) and surrounded him with luxuries and servants. It was no wonder that the poor young man became......spoiled.
He began to think more and more of himself and became less and less enthusiastic about the Creator and His Torah. His meditative walks eventually brought him to the city and things he saw there caught his eyes and enflamed his heart - especially the women. They were attractive, beautiful, decorated, perfumed. He knew it was wrong, foolish, infantile but every time he returned home and saw his wife it made him depressed.
He tried to return to his learning, to put these thoughts out of his mind but he was lost. And it wasn't long before his confusion became desperation; he had to be free!
He decided on a plan. He would shame his father-in-law to the point where he would be willing to give him money to divorce his daughter. Then he would be rich and on his own! It was foolproof!! But he became a bigger fool than he thought.
He stopped learning Torah and observing the Commandments. He transgressed the Shabbat, cursed and acted like an animal in public and hung around in bars with the lowest of the gentiles. His father-in-law saw through his transparent, foolish plan and decided to simply ignore him.
So Yehuda didn't get the money, but he did become so involved in his lusts that one day he simply left his wife to be a living widow and ran 'away'.
For months he wandered from city to city taking small jobs and squandering the money on foolish pastimes until one day he took a job working in a general store. The owner of the store was a young gentile woman whose husband had recently passed away and she welcomed his alert mind and willingness to help.
It wasn't long before they married, he took over the store and his luck began to change. In just five years he doubled and re-doubled the profits and turnover until the small business became a very large one with branches in other cities.
Yehuda decided it was time to move into another league. He heard that in France there was a shortage of salt and he had an opportunity to buy hundreds of tons of it directly from the salt mines. It meant a long journey through forests and mountains but it would net him millions of rubles profit and he went for it!
The journey took several days but it was more pleasant than he imagined. Hour after hour in the forests far from the luxury and confusion of his day to day schedule he gradually began to feel strangely quiet and free…..nature was having it's effect. And he sang. He sang to the forests, to the sky to the trees. For the first time in years he sang and the gentiles accompanying him, hearing the beautiful melody, sang along.
But something strange was happening; as he sang tears ran down his cheeks. He was as a man hypnotized and his song was transporting him into another world, and he was crying....but why?
The gentiles noticed the change coming over him, fell silent and fear began to show on their faces; their boss was singing the song the Jews sang on their day of Forgivness, Yom Kippur. Oy Yoy, Oy Yoy, Oy Yoy, Oyyyyoy Kol Nidraey."
Yehuda shook like a bolt of lighting, as though waking from a dream! Where was he? What had he done? The past came back to him like a terrible nightmare. His mind became clear and he began to calculate… the gentile date, the Hebrew date…. today or yesterday was Yom Kippur! He looked around him like a trapped animal… he had to escape! To escape from himself!!
He jumped from his carriage and began to run. It didn't matter where.. he just had to run.. to get far away from that carriage from everything.
He ran and ran for days. He didn't know or care if he ate or slept. He ran through villages and towns until perhaps a month later, torn, dirty, and emaciated a pupil of the Baal Shem Tov saw him and invited him to his house.
Yehuda refused to talk and he didn't want to take charity either. In fact he would rather have been dead than alive but that wouldn't help; he had a lot of repentance to do. His heart was broken… but not enough. His past deeds had dug deep into his soul and now they haunted him and smothered him…. he had to uproot them.
Every morning he woke early and went to the nearby lake to immerse himself. Even in the freezing winter months. He would chop a hole in the ice and spend long hours in the wind and snow. Many times he was nearer to death than life but it didn't stop him.
This he continued for over a year until one day he had a dream that his repentance had been accepted in heaven and shortly he would receive a sign to convince him.
And so it was, the next day an old Jew saw him on the street, called him by name and told him that his gentile wife gave him up for dead, took all his money and remarried and his Jewish wife that he left was still alive and waiting for him.
Yehuda realized that his repentance had been accepted, returned to his first wife, requested forgiveness from her and her father and resumed his life as before, but now with something he lacked before; humility.
When the young man heard this story from the Holy Rushener Rabbi he understood and returned to his wife a humble man.
This answers our questions. The reason Moses counted the Jewish people was to give EACH and EVERY Jew a holy identity.
When each Jew realizes that he COUNTS by Moses (and by G-d who commanded him) and that he/she is worth exactly the SAME as every other Jew this give power to not only withstand even the most difficult trials and tribulations of the Desert; i.e. this cold, confusing wasteland of a world we live in. But to transform it to the world of Moshiach and redemption!
This is the TRUE identity of every Jew.
This identity was given in a general way at Mount Sinai (Ex. 3:12). But when Moses counted them it happened in a specific way; each and every Jew for all generations was given this power personally.
So we have everything, all the power and blessing we need to make this world a blessed, joyous, meaningful place. All we need to do is, as the Lubavitcher Rebbe said, open our eyes and not be lazy or ashamed to do all we can to bring....
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