This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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This week's Torah portion, Bamidbar, is always read before the Holiday of Shavuos commemorating the date that G-d gave the Torah at Mt. Sinai over 3,320 years ago.
Its Hebrew title means 'In the Desert' but in English it is called 'Numbers' (and in Hebrew it's often referred to as 'Pikudim' which means 'Numbers') because it describes, in detail, how Moshe counted the Jews after they left Egypt.
At first glance this is not understood. 'Torah' means 'teaching' and it is very precise. There must be a lesson here.
1) What is the connection between getting the Torah, getting counted and being in the Desert?
2) Why did the Jews have to be counted at all?
3) In this case G-d asked Moses to count them. Why didn't He just reveal the number to Moses and save him a lot of time and trouble? (See Rashi 3:16)
To understand this, here is a story. (Toratcha Shashuai #552)
Some 200 years ago on a freezing, snow stormy night on a desolate road in the middle of Poland, a Jewish businessman's wagon, laden with goods, was stuck deeply in the mud in a blizzard. Perhaps the ice broke under the wheels but the wind was whistling so crazily it would have been impossible for the driver to hear. One thing for sure, the wagon wasn't budging and the two strong horses that had previously been faithfully doing their job were now helpless.
The driver tried all the tricks he knew; whipping, prodding, begging them turning the reigns this way and that, but nothing helped. The horses strained until they were exhausted, another few hours in the cold and they would freeze to death. The forest was filled with wolves and robbers who were just waiting for such an opportunity. The horses and the contents of the carriage would be easy pickings. The situation was desperate.
The businessman was at the end of his wits. He turned to the driver and yelled at him over the wind to run to the nearest town; perhaps there he could find someone with a horse or two or a few strong men to come back and help. They had to do something fast. He would wait here in the carriage until he returned.
The nearest town was the city of Apta, perhaps a half hour's run from where they were. The driver took a small swig from the small vodka flask he carried and began running. But by the time he entered the town it was well after midnight and except for the screaming winds and snow the streets were enveloped in total, black, awesome, frozen silence.
The driver stood alone and looked around, all lights were out, everyone was certainly warmly curled up under their blankets fast asleep. Where would he find anyone to help him now? But he couldn't go back. With no choice he began walking, hoping to find some sign of life… but in vain. It was so hopeless he wanted to cry.
He saw a dim light in the Synagogue; he had to get out of the cold.
He entered the silent building, tried to warm himself up and after a few seconds burst into tears.
Suddenly he heard from a corner of the room someone say something. He looked up to see that a thin, young man who had probably been sitting and learning Torah by candlelight was standing looking at him. "What's wrong?" the young man repeated. "Why are you crying? What happened?"
The driver walked over to him, dried his tears, shook the young man's hand and told him the whole story; where the carriage was stuck, how he had come looking for some help and added that possibly there was a tavern or some other place in the town where they could find strong fellows or maybe a horse or two to help push the carriage. He was pleading for help.
The young man told him not to worry, put on his coat, closed his book and told him to follow him. The driver couldn't believe his ears! It was a miracle!! He thanked the young man profusely and thanked G-d for sending him. Soon there would be help! Probably he knew where there were some big strong men! The driver followed him out of the Synagogue into the street but to his surprise the young man didn't turn right or left; he kept walking straight…. out of the town in the direction of the carriage!
The driver tried to protest, to explain that it was senseless to go alone, they had to go back and get help; bring a horse or even three. But the young man just kept walking swiftly through the swirling snow and freezing wind until they arrived at the site of the carriage.
When the businessman saw they had arrived he jumped, half frozen, out of the carriage expecting to see salvation. But when he saw that this skinny fellow was all he had brought back he turned around, held his head in agony and began to moan. "No! NO!!! This is what I have been waiting in the cold for, for over an hour?! For this?! Who knows if the horses aren't frozen dead already? How is this matchstick going to get us out? Oy!! HaShem!! Have mercy!!"
But the young man seemed totally unaffected by all this. He just said quietly. "You have already been stuck here too long. I hate to see it when people are stuck. The time has come that you should continue in your journey."
There was something so simple in this young man's words that it caught the driver by surprise. "What do you mean?" he asked.
"I mean, go back up to your seat, crack your whip over the horses and continue in your journey." He replied.
"And what will you do?" The driver asked.
"I'll get in the coach and return with you to Apta".
The tone of the young fellow's voice made the driver, without a further thought, jump up onto the carriage, climb to his place, grab his whip and snap it over the horses and amazingly, the horses, as though they had just been waiting for this, with no effort pulled the carriage smoothly out of the mud …… to freedom!!
The businessman and the driver turned in astonishment to the young man who waited for the businessman to enter the carriage, then entered after him and motioned for the driver to go. Minutes later they entered Apta and when the carriage stopped the young man alighted and walked quietly off into the darkness without saying a word.
Before they could digest what just happened the irresistible smell of freshly baked bread wafted softly into their nostrils. The bakery of Apta was preparing for the morning customers. They followed the smell and in just moments found themselves entering the bakery and being greeted by its owner, a religious Jew. "Welcome! Welcome honored guests! Come and partake of freshly baked bread! Come wash your hands and sit down" he said in the most friendly voice possible.
It was as though they had suddenly been transported into a warm pleasant, new world as though in a dream. They suddenly realized that they their ordeal had left them very tired and hungry. They washed for bread while the baker prepared some hot tea and as they ate they told their host about the miracle that they had just experienced.
"Young man? Miracles? I know everyone in this city" the baker said "and I can tell you for sure there are no young, thin miracle workers here. Must be someone from another city, or maybe it was Elijah the prophet! You know it says in the Talmud that he makes miracles! But one thing for sure, you should have asked him for a blessing! I mean, if he could free wagons then who knows what else he could do for you?!"
Suddenly the side door of the bakery opened and a thin figure wrapped in an old cloth winter coat slipped into the room. The baker's smile faded and a look of disgust darkened his face. "Oy! That's my son in law! What a lazy bum! The whole day I work like a slave to support his family and ….. you know what he does?! Nothing! He drives me crazy!"
The driver's face became pale. That's him! Tha… that's the one that … took us out of the mud!!"
As soon as the baker understood what happened his eyes widened like saucers! "Him? He's the Tzadik (miracle worker)?!" He fell with a thud on the chair behind him totally confused, mumbling, "It can't be! It just can't be!"
As soon as the baker's son in law heard the thud and the commotion he ran to his father in law's aid but when the latter came to his senses he fell to one knee, took his son in law's hand and began to beg his forgiveness.
That night a hidden 'Tzadik' became revealed to the world; a great miracle worker who would help thousands 'out of the mud' known as "Ha'Y'hudi HaKodesh M'Pashiska" (The Holy Jew of Pashiska).
This answers our questions.
The connection between receiving the Torah, the desert and getting counted is simple; all three are mundane things that the Jews transformed to holiness.
The Torah is a book, ink on paper, like any other book in the library. It can be (and unfortunately is) treated as an interesting piece of literature, history or religion.
But in reality it is something else all together. It is the will and wisdom of the Creator of all being and contains the plan to transform the entire world and everything in it into pure holiness.
Or in more metaphorical terms: to transform this meaningless 'desert' of a world into an oasis of meaning and joy.
And the Jews have special powers to do this; to activate the Torah and use its holiness to make 'heaven on earth. But these powers are hidden in them.
And that is why G-d wanted Moses to count them; to bring these latent powers into revelation.
By being counted each Jew became 'ONE'. And this connected each of them with the ONENESS of G-d and awakened their capabilities to use the Torah to transform the world (as G-d wants) and free it from 'the mud' like the hidden Tzadik in our story.
That is why G-d wanted Moses to count them. Because only Moses can do this.
It is the job of the Moses of each and every generation (which, ultimately will be completed by Moshiach); to awaken the unique power (called "Yechida"; the highest of the soul's five levels) in each Jewish soul so they can 'fill the world with the awareness of G-d like water fills the sea" (Isaiah 11:9) .
So when Moses counted the Jews, brought them the Torah and afterwards led them through the desert he revealed the hidden powers of good in each of them (us)….. so that today even one positive deed we do, word we say or even thought we think can pull all mankind from the mud and bring…
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