Parashat Bamidbar / Shavuot
Dedicated Leilui Nishmat Laura Fallas A’H by Her Son Alan Fallas and Family
Parashat Bamidbar / Shavuot 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 headcount.” 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 that 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 says, based on this logic, that 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 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. Why So Few Leviim? Rabbi Frand says that the Torah records that after Moshe did the census of Bnei Yisrael, he counted the Tribe of Levi separately. The Leviim were counted from the age of one month and above (3:15), and they added up to 22,000. The Ramban asks a basic demographic question. “The male population of the Tribe of Levi, which was counted from thirty days and up, numbered less than half of the next smallest Tribe, despite the fact that all the rest of the tribes were counted only from the age of twenty years and above!” The Ramban asks, “Why were there so few Leviim?” The Ramban suggests an answer to this question. He says this corroborates Chazal’s teaching on the passuk “As [the Egyptians] persecuted [the Jews], so did they multiply and so did they expand (Shemot 1:12).” The more the Egyptians tried to minimize the Jewish Nation through bondage and persecution, the more Hashem blessed the Israelites and allowed the women to have multiple births, creating a population explosion. Chazal teach that the Tribe of Levi was not subjected to the bondage of slavery. They were free from the work and the persecution suffered by the other tribes. Therefore, since they were not part of the persecution, they also were not part of the blessing of the population explosion, and consequently, their total population at the end of the period of Egyptian slavery was much smaller than that of the other tribes. Shavuot Shavuot is referred to in our prayers as “Zman Matan 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. When B’nei Yisrael journeyed to the desert, in Parashat Yitro it says, “Vayachanu bamidbar, vayichan sham yisrael neged hahar — and they camped in the desert, and he camped there opposite the mountain (Shemot 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 echad — Like 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. 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 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 to achieve being physically in shape, so too do we need to toil and labor 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 Chessed 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 Megillat Ruth on Shavuot. Another great quality of Ruth was her chessed, 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 chessed and the core of what being a Jew is all about — caring for one another. Ruth was a princess, but she offered to go beg in the fields to spare Naomi that embarrassment. Also, as another chessed, 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 chessed, 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 King David — was her descendant (Sota 42b). We must make decisions in our own lives that will carry us on the right path. When we reach out and do chessed for others, we stay true to the path of Torah. At a fundraising dinner for a school that serves children with learning disabilities, the father of one of the students delivered a speech that would never be forgotten by all who attended. “As you are aware, my son Shay could not understand or do things as other children can. I believe that when a mentally and physically disabled child, like Shay, comes into the world, it presents a unique opportunity for true human nature to present itself, and it comes in the way other people treat that child. “One summer day, Shay and I were walking past a park where some boys Shay knew were playing baseball. Shay asked, ‘Do you think they'll let me play?’ I knew that most of the boys would not want someone like Shay on their team, but as a father, I also knew that playing with them would give Shay a much-needed sense of belonging—being accepted by others despite his handicaps. “Without getting my hopes up, I approached one of the boys on the field and asked if Shay could play. The boy looked around for guidance and said, ‘We're losing by six runs and the game is in the eighth inning. I guess he can be on our team, and we’ll put him in to bat in the ninth inning.’” The father continued his speech. “Shay struggled over to the bench, and with a broad smile, put on a team jersey. I watched with a tear in my eye and warmth in my heart. The boys saw my joy at my son being accepted. In the bottom of the eighth inning, Shay's team scored a few runs but was still behind by three. At the top of the ninth, Shay put on a glove and played right field. Even though no hits came his way, he was obviously ecstatic just to be in the game, grinning ear-to-ear as I waved to him from the stands with pride. When Shay’s team was batting, with two outs and the bases loaded, Shay was scheduled to be next for the potential winning run.” Shay’s father said, “I knew the challenge the team was going to face. Do they let Shay bat and give away their comeback win? Shay could barely hold the bat, let alone connect with the ball. It seemed all the boys were on the same page and didn’t even need a time out. One of the boys handed Shay the bat. As Shay stepped up to the plate, the other team’s pitcher recognized how important this moment was. He moved in a few steps to toss the ball softly, so Shay could at least make contact. “The first pitch came, and Shay swung clumsily and missed. The pitcher again tossed the ball lightly toward Shay. He did this well past three strikes. As the sixth pitch came in, Shay swung at the ball and hit a slow ground ball right to the middle of the field. The pitcher picked up the soft grounder and could have easily thrown the ball to the first baseman. Shay would have been out and that would have been the end of the game. Instead, the pitcher threw the ball right over the first baseman's head, out of reach of all his teammates. Both teams and everyone in the bleachers got up and started shouting frantically, ‘RUN, SHAY, RUN!!!!!’ “With a huge smile on his face, Shay hobbled over to first base as fast as he could, wide-eyed, startled, and oh so happy. The field was in an uproar; ‘Shay, run to second, run to second!!’ Catching his breath, Shay awkwardly ran toward second, sweating and struggling to make it to the base. One of the boys from the opposing team grabbed the ball and intentionally threw it way over the third-baseman's head, to ‘try to get Shay out.’ Shay ran toward third base deliriously as the runners ahead of him circled the bases toward home. All were screaming, ‘Shay, Shay, Shay, come on, all the way Shay!’ The opposing shortstop ran to help Shay and held his arm on his way to third. Shay rounded third, and the field erupted. Jumping up and down, everyone was screaming, ‘RUN HOME, SHAY!!!’ Shay ran home, stepped on the plate, and was lifted up on the boys’ shoulders as the hero who hit a grand slam, winning the game for his team. “That day,” the father spoke softly with tears rolling down his face, “everyone on that field helped bring a piece of true love and humanity into this world. Shay unfortunately didn't make it to another summer. He passed away that winter, but he often spoke about being the hero of the game that summer day. I am so very grateful to those selfless boys at the park who helped give me such an incredible, joyous memory of my son.” A story like this ought to make us feel proud to be a part of the Jewish people. Jews can meet anywhere in the world, whether it be at an airport in Beijing, or on a baseball field. It makes no difference where, but there is an immediate feeling of connection, regardless of how different we are on the outside. As we learned from the camps at the foot of Har Sinai, the Jewish people are interconnected and inextricably bound to one another. And on Shavuot, Ruth teaches us the importance of being compassionate and of doing chessed for someone in need. Those boys went above and beyond to do a tremendous act of kindness for a special little boy and his father. May we all continue to appreciate and celebrate the acceptance of the greatest gift any nation could ever receive, our holy Torah. May we always remember to always 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, written by Jack Rahmey Discussion Point:
What stories of chessed do you have from your own experience, or from others who you know?
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