Parsha Nugget Bamidbar – Numbers 1:1-4:20
Successful members of the military and entrepreneurs never say, “can’t.” Rather they say, “how.” This "can do" spirit impels them to overcome or get around obstacles. G-d wants you to embrace the same attitude in civilian life, alluded to in Parshas Bamidbar:
G-d spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai . . . (Numbers/Bamidbar 1:1)
This Sabbath’s parsha begins the fourth book of the Torah. In it, G-d commands Moses to take a census of the Children of Israel, first of the 12 Tribes and then of the Levites. Next G-d gives the arrangement of the tribes into four camps that will march at the four sides of the Ark. Then the Levites are appointed to the service of the Tabernacle in place of the firstborn. From this comes the mitzvah of Pidyon Haben, the redemption of the firstborn, still done today.
Although most people know the fourth book of the Torah as “Numbers,” in Hebrew it's called Bamidbar meaning “in the wilderness.” This parsha is always read on a Sabbath before the festival of Shavuos. The proximity is no accident. Shavuos is called Z’man Matan Torah, “the time of the giving of the Torah.”
When It's More Blessed to Receive
Our Sages teach G-d giving us the Torah is insufficient unless we are open to receiving it. What makes us worthy recipients of this most precious and timeless gift? The meaning can be found in bamidbar. A wilderness is ownerless and barren. Similarly, students of Torah must know they are empty vessels. Vanity is one of the biggest obstacles to divine wisdom. Humility makes it accessible.
A self-absorbed person has preconceived notions. He can't integrate G-d’s word into his being. The Kotzker Rebbe adjures even accomplished Torah scholars to remember, “as much as you know, you are still an undeveloped wilderness.”
Maimonides in his Laws of Torah Study (3:1) states, “With three crowns was Israel adorned: the crown of Torah, the crown of the priesthood, and the crown of royalty. The priesthood was the privilege of Aaron. Royalty was the privilege of King David. The crown of Torah is ready and waiting for all of Israel. And it is the greatest crown of all.”
Conquering the Obstacles to Divine Wisdom
The Torah may be free to all. But like a desert wilderness, you must surrender yourself to it rather than attempting to adjust it to your own wishes and lifestyle.
So reconcile yourself to the idea that like the empty, uninhabited wilderness, as a person of G-d you may find yourself alone, even isolated. The values you live by and the activities you pursue may not be reflected in broader society. Rather than thinking you can't, be like a member of the military or an entrepreneur. Commit to finding how you will maintain and enhance your bond to G-d.
When do you find yourself most at odds with society?
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Every year beginning on Simchas Torah, the cycle of reading the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, ends and begins again. Each Sabbath a portion known as a sedra or parsha is read. Its name comes from the first significant word or two with which this weekly reading begins.
Do you have a question about the Old Testament? Ask it here and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!