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Parashat Bamidbar

Dedicated in Loving Memory of Laura Fallas by Her Son Alan Fallas Parashat Bamidbar The Census This week’s parasha, Bamidbar, begins the fourth book of the Chumash. In the second passuk, Hashem says to Moshe, “Take a census of the entire assembly of B’nei Yisrael according to their families, according to their fathers’ households, by number of the names, every male according to their head count.” Rav Pam says that Hashem counted B’nei Yisrael due to His great love for them. He counts them frequently, just as a man counts and recounts money which is precious to him. Last week, Parashat, Bechukotai described the fearful curses and punishments which would befall B’nei Yisrael if they sinned. When they heard this, they worried that Hashem might abandon His people forever if they transgressed. This census reassured them that Hashem has a great and everlasting love for B’nei Yisrael. A Rabbi and A Father And these are the descendants of Aharon and Moshe at the time that G-d spoke to Moshe on Mount Sinai (3:1).” The next passuk states the names of Aharon’s sons, listing them as the descendants of Aharon and Moshe. Rashi comments that the reason for this is because Moshe taught Aharon’s sons Torah. The Gemara clarifies, “Whoever teaches the son of his friend Torah, the Torah considers it as if he fathered them (Sanhedrin 19b).” The Maharal asks, based on this logic, the Torah should say that the entire population of Israel was like the sons of Moshe. He answers that Rashi is making a specific point here. Although Moshe did, in fact, teach Torah to all of Israel, he’d taken extra time and extra care with his own nephews — Aharon’s sons. Certainly, he taught Torah to everyone, but he no doubt went the ‘extra mile’ to explain and review the Torah with his nephews. The Maharal says that a parent is defined by the willingness to go the extra mile. United We Camp When B’nei Yisrael left Egypt and journeyed to the desert, in Parashat Yitro it says, “Vayachanu bamidbar, vayichan sham yisrael neged haharand they camped in the dessert, and he camped there opposite the mountain (19:2).” First the passuk writes “they camped” in plural. But when it writes that B’nei Yisrael camped at Har Sinai, it switches to singular. Rashi comments on the usage of the singular form, “K’ish echad, b’lev echadLike one man, with one heart.” This is because at Har Sinai, B’nei Yisrael were so united, they were like one person, giving us the merit to receive the Torah! There is nothing greater in Hashem’s eyes than seeing B’nei Yisrael unified in harmony as one close nation, just as a father loves seeing his children close to one another, getting along and unified as one. There is a great story in Chaim Walder’s People Speak 12 about a family that found itself stuck at a gas station over Shabbat and managed to unite Jewish people from all walks of life. A young rabbi, his wife and kids decided to travel from Ma’alot Tarshiha to his mom’s house in Ashkelon for Shabbat. His sister and her husband asked to come with him, so he borrowed a friend’s car to fit everyone. It was a two-hour trip to Ashkelon, and they left four hours before Shabbat, thinking that was plenty of time. Big mistake! The car stalled about an hour into the trip. The rabbi and his brother in-law had no knowledge of mechanics. He called a few garages, and they all said they’ll be there soon. When no one showed up, he flagged down a car who stopped to help. The driver offered assistance, and he replaced one of the spark plugs. The car started, and they continued on their way. When they pulled onto Highway 6, the car stalled again. A telephone in the emergency Highway box rang, and the operator said, “We see from the cameras that you pulled over; we’re sending you a service vehicle.” Ten minutes later, it arrived. “A plug went,” the mechanic said. “I just replaced one twenty minutes ago,” said the rabbi. “Another must have burned out,” the mechanic clarified. He replaced another spark plug, and the family resumed their journey, hoping to arrive in Ashkelon before Shabbat. All hope was lost when the car stalled again. Another mechanic was dispatched, and the rabbi asked the mechanic to follow him while he pulls over and into a gas station. They somehow manage to crawl there before the car sputtered and died for the fourth time that day. With eight minutes until sunset, suddenly it hit him. The rabbi, his wife, his two young children, his brother in-law, and sister were all going to spend Shabbat in a gas station on Highway 6! He quickly ran into the convenience store and bought packaged rolls and snacks. As it grew darker, more and more people started to approach the car. “Hey, you’re religious. Why are you here?” “Our car died,” the rabbi said. “We’re having Shabbat at this gas station.” “Oh no, please let me give you all a lift,” countless people offered. The rabbi looked at his family, “Thank you. But it’s Shabbat, we can’t travel.” People found it hard to leave the gas station and a crowd started to form. The rabbi went up to them and asked, “Want to help me?” Everyone said, “Sure! Whatever you need, let us bring you home!” “No, no not that. Please join me for a minyan.” And so, in the middle of nowhere, at a gas station on Highway 6, a group of unrelated, mismatched Jews start to sing Lecha Dodi. The rabbi was so touched, he started to cry uncontrollably. They prayed arvit together, said Shabbat Shalom, and the rabbi invited people to join the seudah on a stone table. He made kiddush on a bottle of coke and handed everyone a small piece of a roll with chips and pretzels. Other Jewish people stopped at the gas station and they all had suggestions: “I have an Arab friend who can take you home.” “Come have your Shabbat at my house, it’s only ten minutes away.” But the rabbi gently reminded them he can’t travel on Shabbat, and he offered for them to come sit with their happy group. The rabbi started to give a Devar Torah. It was a scene beyond belief. Thirty random Jewish people sat with the charedi family and enjoyed Shabbat together with food and Torah. All of them asked for the rabbi’s phone number so they can check on the family after Shabbat was over. He gave his name but not his phone number, afraid they would write it down. “Call information after Shabbat and give me a call!” The singing ended, night fell, and it started to get really cold. The rabbi said to his wife, “You and my sister stay in the car with the children, and my brother in-law and I will sleep on the benches.” At this time, people milled around the station to fill their tanks. Hundreds of Jews passed through the station, approached the family that was stuck, and offered help. The rabbi and his brother in-law fall asleep on the benches, unaware that cold temperatures can be extremely dangerous. At midnight, they were so weak from their freezing state, and they heard some voices. A few buses carrying fans of rival soccer teams heading home from a game stopped at the gas station on Highway 6. “Let’s cover them so they don’t freeze to death!” One after the other, they removed their team scarves, red and yellow, and placed them on top of the rabbi and his brother in-law. Dozens of scarves covered them, and their temperatures slowly rose back to normal. When he came to, the rabbi held the makeshift blanket and asked, “Where did these come from?” One of the soccer fans crouched down, “Achi—my brother, we are fans of two rival teams. Enemies. During a game, they need policemen and armed security guards to keep us apart. But we heard what you people did here for Shabbat, and look, here are scarves in both colors. We’re here together to warm you up. Come dance, so you can bring your temperature back up.” Hundreds of fans gathered in a circle and danced with the rabbi and his brother in-law, while the women and children looked on in wonder. The next day, more people came to the station with ideas, and the rabbi asked again for a minyan. Motzei Shabbat arrived, and with it, hundreds of calls to the rabbi’s phone to see how the rest of Shabbat went. Most of the people who called said they decided to keep that Shabbat, a first in many years. Five years later, the rabbi is still in contact with dozens of people he met at the gas station, with a dozen now fully keeping Shabbat. He is now known as the Rabbi of Highway 6, and he is incredibly grateful for being able to experience a Shabbat with Am Yisrael, who went above and beyond, and who forgot all their disputes, uniting to help a stranded family. This week, Hamas launched thousands of rockets toward Israel. K’ish echad, b’lev echad, the Jewish Nation, young and old, left and right, secular and religious, are uniting to condemn this terrible enemy. How fitting for this week’s parasha! We must stand together and pray that Hashem keep all of us safe, and that Mashiach should arrive speedily in our days. Amen! Shavuot Shavuot is referred to in our prayers as “Zeman mattan toratenu,” the time when our Torah was given. This holiday commemorates that momentous occasion when the world achieved the purpose for which it was created—the acceptance of the Torah. As Harav Moshe Chaim Luzzatto mentions several times in Derech Hashem, the holiday cycle is more than just a series of anniversaries commemorating historical events. Just as the Heavens opened and great spiritual powers were given to the Israelites as they camped at the foot of Mount Sinai some 3,300 years ago, the Heavens make these gifts available to us every year on this date. It is up to us to make ourselves worthy of receiving those gifts by always learning and growing in Torah. A family was once driving somewhere when they noticed one of their relatives walking on the sidewalk. The car slowed down and drove alongside of him exchanging greetings and goodwill, and then continued on. The young daughter screamed, “But wait! There’s room in the car for him! Why don’t we give him a ride? Hazit! Look how much he is sweating!” The family started laughing. Why? The relative was obviously dressed for exercising. He wasn’t stranded outside in need of a ride; his whole objective was to exercise! The more he exerts himself, the healthier and more fit he will become. As we mentioned last week, the exact same is true when it comes to toiling in Torah study. The learning itself is the very objective and goal. The Torah is our connection with Hashem. Just as one needs to work and sweat in order to achieve being physically in shape, so too do we need to toil and labor in order to achieve being in healthy spiritual shape. Labor perfects the soul and purifies a person’s spirit. Hashem showed His love for the Jewish Nation through the gift of the Torah. Hashem gave the Torah to elevate us to holiness and righteousness, thereby becoming a “light unto all the other nations of the world.” Ruth’s Chesed The gematria for Ruth is 606. If you add seven, for the seven Noahide—the seven laws of Noah that all nations must obey—the total is 613. This signifies that Ruth was a true convert, accepting all the mitzvot in the Torah. For this reason, we have the custom to read Megilat Ruth on Shavuot. Another great quality of Ruth was her chesed, as she refused to abandon her mother in-law Naomi. She could have easily gone back to her father’s palace, where she would have lived as a princess of Moab. Instead she stuck with Naomi, so that Naomi would not be alone. Ruth said to her mother in-law, “Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you will lodge, I will lodge; your people are my people, and your G-d is my G-d; where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus, may Hashem do to me, and more. if anything but death separates me from you (1:16).” This was the ultimate form of chesed and the core of what being a Jew is all about — caring for one another. Ruth was a princess, but she offered to go and beg in the fields to spare Naomi that embarrassment. Also, as another chesed she married Boaz, a much older man, so that she could have a child through yibum and give Naomi happiness after losing her husband and two sons. We learn from this that there are two paths that we can choose to follow. Ruth decided to follow the Torah and not abandon her mother in-law and in doing this chesed, she merited to become the mother of the Davidic dynasty. However, her sister in-law Orpa chose a different path. She returned to her pagan Moabite gods, and according to the Talmud, Goliath the Philistine — who was ultimately killed by David — was her descendant (Sota 42b). We must make decisions in our own lives that will carry us on the right path. Where we live and where we send our children to be educated all have a butterfly effect that can drastically change the future of our descendants. When we make sacrifices for Torah, it will ultimately bring us great reward. May we all continue to appreciate and celebrate the acceptance of the greatest gift any nation could ever receive, our holy Torah. May we pray for Israel’s safety and pray for Mashiach. May we always remember ve’ahavta lereacha kamochalove your friend as you love yourself and be concerned for the welfare of our fellow Jews, to help unite B’nei Yisrael not only as one nation, but one heart. Shabbat Shalom! Rabbi Amram Sananes as written by Jack Rahmey Discussion Points:

  • What stories of chesed do you have from your own experience, or from others who you know?

  • Do we have any unresolved disputes with anyone? Can we put our pride aside and unite like one man with one heart?

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