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Bamidbar
Flag Days Print E-mail
Friday, 26 May 2017

Dedicated to the memory of Shulamit Cohen-Kishik z”l, an Israeli spy for Israel’s Mossad who worked undercover in Lebanon for 14 years. Shulamit was my student and she passed away this week at the age of 100.

Over the past few weeks, many flags have been displayed in Israel. Beginning on Erev Yom HaZikaron, the eve of Israel’s Memorial Day for the fallen soldiers, Israeli flags have been waving from windows and porches. Most public buildings display large Israeli flags as well. The Israeli flags remain up until after Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day).

Two other flags were hanging in Jerusalem this week in honor of Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Reunification Day. The first was the municipal Yerushalayim flag, with a lion, the symbol of Jerusalem, and the second, a special Jerusalem at 50 flag.

On Wednesday afternoon the “Rikudegalim”, “Dance with Flags Parade” took place with over 80,000 people dancing from Jerusalem’s city center into the Old City carrying Israeli and Jerusalem flags.

Each flag has its own meaning.

Let’s focus on the Jerusalem flag and its Biblical origins:

In Parshat Bamidbar 2:1-2, we read about B’nai Yisrael’s travels in the desert: “God spoke to Moshe and to Aharon saying; ‘The Children of Israel shall encamp, each man by his flag according to the insignias of their fathers’ household, at a distance surrounding the Tent of Meeting shall they encamp.’”

According to Rashi, each flag has as its insignia a different colored cloth. Each color corresponds with the hue of its gem set in the breastplate (choshen). This made it easy for the members of each tribe to recognize their flag.

Another interpretation is that each flag had the sign that Yaakov gave each tribe before his death. In Bamidbar Raba 2:6, we learn that the flag for the tribe of Yehuda (the tribe whose territory contained most of Jerusalem) was sky blue with a lion as we see in Breisheet 49:9, “A lion cub is Yehuda; from the prey, my son, you elevated yourself. He crouches, lies down like a lion and like an awesome lion, who dares rouse him?”

In 1949 there was a contest to see who could come up with the best Jerusalem flag and the lion won. In 1967, the flag became the flag of the united Jerusalem.

This week, Jerusalem saw one more flag hanging as well, the American flag which was displayed in honor of President Trump’s visit. Seeing the American flag hanging in Jerusalem along with the Israeli and Jerusalem flags reminded me that this coming week Memorial Day will commemorated in the United States. My grandfather, Harry V. DuBrow was a World War II veteran and he took Memorial Day very seriously. In Israel, everyone knows somebody who fell fighting to keep the State of Israel safe so Yom Hazikaron is very somber. In the United States, many have no personal connection to the military.

May the Unites States of America learn a lesson from Israel and make it a priority to give honor to those who were killed fighting for their country.

 
Are We Permitted to Count People? Print E-mail
Sunday, 24 May 2015

The Talmud, Yoma 22b asks: Why weren’t the Kohanim counted by a headcount (why were their fingers counted)?  Rabbi Yitzchak said: It is forbidden to count the people of Israel through a head count, even for the purpose of a mitzva for it is written in Shmuel Alef 11:8:  “He counted them through pottery shards.” According to Rav Ashi we derive the prohibition from Shmuel Alef 15:4: “Saul had all the people summoned and he counted them through lambs.”

 

We see from here that even when preparing for war, King Saul counted the people indirectly.

 

The Gemara continues: Rabbi Elazar said: Whoever counts the people of Israel transgresses a negative commandment for it is stated in Hoshea 2:1 “The number of the children of Israel will be like the sand of the sea which cannot be measured.”

 

Why does the Gemara quote the prohibitions from the Neviim (Prophets) rather than from the Torah (Shmot 30:12) “When you take a census of B’nai Yisrael according to their numbers, every man shall give God an atonement for his soul (a half shekel) when counting them, so that there will not be plague among them when counting them.” ? According to the Maharsha, this pasuk in Shmot does not necessarily address future generations. It may have only been directed to the generation that sinned with the golden calf who needed atonement.

 

In Parshat Bamidbar (Bamidbar 1:2) there is no mention of the half shekel: “Take a head count of the entire congregation of B’nai Yisrael according to their families to the house of their fathers counting the names of all males individually.” Rashi and Ramban insist that this was done with the half shekel like in Shmot. Abravanel states that this time the count was taken without the half shekel.

 

According to Sefer HaChinuch, when the Mishkan and Beit HaMikdash stood, once a year the half shekel was collected to help pay for everything that was needed for the continual and additional burnt offerings.

 

At the end od Shmuel Bet, King David insisted that Yoav the captain count the people. Yoav didn’t want to count them but King David insisted so Yoav counted them. Afterwards, Kind David repented but God sent a plague that killed 70,000 men.

 

Abravanel explains that King David’s problem was that he counted the people for the wrong reasons. He was counting the people to pride himself in front of his enemies.

 

We learn from here that we shouldn’t count people for no reason.

 

The question remains, can we count people in times of necessity?

 

When necessary, we can count indirectly. In other words, you can count kipot, hats or jackets the same way that the fingers of the Kohanim were counted. In this way we have a clear picture of who is there without counting heads.

 

When counting to see if there are ten people for a minyan, words from the pasuk “Hoshia et amecha uvarech et nachlatecha ureim vinasem ad olam” are used instead of numbers. You only have a minyan once you have recited the entire pasuk!

 
Baali (My Master) vs. Ishi (My Husband) Print E-mail
Friday, 23 May 2014

When I arrived in Israel almost ten years ago, the word “baal” bothered me. Although the word “baal” in Modern Hebrew refers to husband, the traditional definition is master or owner. I asked a Hebrew Ulpan teacher who was about to be married if she was going to use the term “baal” to refer to her husband. She said that she had no problem with the word “baal” which in her mind was the Modern Hebrew word for husband.

 

I don’t have a problem with the English word “husband” which in Old English meant master of the house since today the word husband is defined as a married man. I can therefore see where the teacher is coming from. However, there are women today who prefer not to use the word husband due to the Old English definition and prefer to use a different word such as spouse.

 

Despite her answer, there are many men and women in Israel who are uncomfortable with using the term “baal”.

 

The relationship between God and the Jewish people is often compared in the Tanach to the relationship between a husband and wife, this week’s Haftarah (Hoshea 2:18-19) is no exception where we read: “It shall be on that day-the word of God- you will say ‘ishi’ (my Husband) and you will no longer say ‘baali’ (My master).

 

Rashi explains that “ishi” is an expression of marital relationship and young love while “baali” is an expression of lordship and fear.

 

Radak points out that the word “baal” also refers to the heathen idol.

 

In 1953, David Ben Gurion wrote a letter stating that on government documents and forms the word “ishi” should be used as opposed to the word “baali” since “baali” conjures up images of the husband being the master as well as a god of idol worship and does not show respect for women. Ben Gurion then quoted our pasuk from Hoshea to prove his point.

 

David Ben Gurion took the Tanach and Biblical Hebrew seriously. Today, unfortunately many Israelis are not as well educated in Biblical Hebrew and are only familiar with Modern and spoken Hebrew.

 

If more women use the word “ishi” to describe their husbands, the word may eventually become standard. From looking at our Haftarah it is clear that “ishi” is the word that God prefers.

 
Take a Head Count Print E-mail
Friday, 10 May 2013

 

In Bamidbar 2:2 we read: “Take a head count of the entire congregation of B’nai Yisrael according to their families to the house of their fathers counting the names of all males individually.”

 

The English name for Sefer Bamidbar is Numbers since there is a lot of counting that takes place.

 

The best way to show that we care about a cause is if we are counted.

 

Less than a month ago, we celebrated Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel Independence Day. The State of Israel was established in 1948. What would have happened if everyone who fought for the state went back to the countries that they came from? In order to hold on to the State of Israel, we need a critical mass of Jewish people to be living here today.

 

In 1948 there were a total of 806,000 residents in Israel.

 

Today, there are 6,042,000 Jews is Israel (75% of the population), 1,658,000 Arabs (20.7% of the population) and 318,000 others.

 

If more Jews move to Israel and less Israelis leave Israel then the numbers will continue to go up.

 

This past week, we celebrated Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day. Jerusalem was reunited in 1967 and we once again had access to Har HaBayit (the Temple Mount) and the Kotel (the Western Wall). If we go to these places and show that they are important to us, then they will remain ours. If we don’t visit these holy sites, then it will look like we don’t care.

 

As of now, Israelis are not allowed to pray on the Temple Mount. If an Israeli is caught moving their lips, they can be arrested. Recently, there has been talk of changing that law so that people of every faith and religion including the Jews would be free to pray on the Temple Mount. If enough people take initiative, then there is a possibility that a difference can be made.

 

The same is true for the Kotel. Those who pray there on a regular basis are going to feel that they have “ownership” of the site and rightfully so. Masses speak in numbers. At the end of the day, those who truly care need to stand up and be counted.

 

 

 
It is Never Too Early to Begin to Teach Your Child Torah! Print E-mail
Friday, 27 May 2011

In Parshat Bamidbar 3:15 we learn that the male members of the tribe of Levi were counted from the age of one month. This was different from the other tribes where the male members were counted from the age of 20, the age that the men began to serve in the army.

 

Why would God want the members of the tribe of Levi to be counted from the age of one month instead of from the age of 20?

 

Rabbi Nissenboim’s answer is that we can begin to train the young men who are going to the army when they are teenagers. However, when we are speaking about training the Leviim who will be the leaders of the Jewish people, their education needs to begin at the age of one month.

 

We can learn from here that it is never too early to teach your child Torah. Here in Jerusalem, mothers and babies take part in Mommy and Me Torah study classes which help the mothers keep up with the study of Torah as well as expose the babies to the Torah at a young age.

 

There is a story in the Talmud about a woman who would bring her baby to the Beit Midrash so that he could absorb the sounds of Torah study. That baby later became a Rabbi in the Mishna. Rashi says that the mother deserved a reward as she demonstrated the value of Torah study. According to the Sfat Emet, even if the baby doesn’t understand what is going on, the study of Torah has an impact on his Neshama which will lead to a greater appreciation of Torah study.

 
 
Turning the Desert into the Garden of Eden Print E-mail
Friday, 14 May 2010
Bamidbar is called “Numbers” in English but literally means “In the Desert”.

The Book of Bamidbar begins with the words: “God spoke to Moshe in the Sinai Desert, in the Tent of Meeting, on the first of the second month, in the second year after their exodus from Egypt saying: Take a census of the entire assembly of B’nai Yisrael according to their families, according to their fathers’ household, by number of the names, every male according to their head count.”

According to S.Y Zavin, We read Parshat Bamidbar on the Shabbat before Shavuot to teach us that whoever keeps the Torah can change the face of the desert from a wasteland to the Garden of Eden as it says in Yishayahu 51:3: “For the Lord shall comfort Zion, he will comfort all her waste places and He will make her wilderness like Eden and her desert like the garden of the Lord, joy and gladness shall be found in it, thanksgiving and the voice of melody.”

We have almost completed the counting of the Omer, the days between the Exodus of Egypt (Pesach) and the giving of the Torah (Shavuot).

Between the major holidays of Pesach and Shavuot we have celebrated two modern holidays, Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel Independence Day and Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day where we have celebrated the modern miracles of the State of Israel and the Unification of Jerusalem.

Over the past 62 years, we have had the opportunity to see the prophecy of Yishayahu come true with our own eyes- the wilderness has turned into Eden and the desert has turned into the garden of the Lord.

May we continue to find joy and gladness, thanksgiving and melody in the State of Israel as we did this past week when we celebrated Yom Yerushalayim.
 
The Power of Shabbat Print E-mail
Thursday, 17 May 2007
Parshat Bamidbar (literally in the desert) is read on the Shabbat before Shavuot for a number of reasons:

According to Rabbi D. Shoham if a person wants to merit in receiving the Torah, they should make themselves into a desert, meaning that they should act modestly.

Rabbi S. Y. Zevin adds that whoever keeps the Torah has the capability of turning a wilderness into the Garden of Eden.

Sfat Emet comments that on the Shabbat before Shavuot we have to spiritually prepare for Kabbalat HaTorah, accepting the Torah. The mitzvah of Shabbat was given before the Torah was given so that Shabbat could be the first step in the process of receiving the Torah.

Sfat Emet continues that in the Book of Shmot, Parshat BeShalach 16:30 it says ?€?So the people rested on the Seventh day?€ť. From there they went to Har Sinai (Mt. Sinai). BeShalch 19:2 states ?€?Vayachan-Yisrael camped before the mountain?€ť. Rashi explains that it says vayachan in the singular as opposed to vayachanu in the plural since at that moment B?€™nai Yisrael were like one person with one heart. The power of Shabbat united them.

People who are returning to religious observance often begin with the observance of Shabbat. Once they have mastered Shabbat observance they are more confident in taking on more of the mitzvoth. We must go out of our way to help those who are striving. We must remember that the Jewish people started their mitzvah observance in the desert, with nothing. Even a newborn baby must celebrate one Shabbat before he takes on the mitzvah of Brit Milah.

In Israel today, where Shabbat observance has become a controversy we must find ways to teach the beauty of Shabbat observance in a positive way as opposed to forcing it on those who have not yet been exposed to what Shabbat is all about. If we can each invite a guest over who has not yet experienced Shabbat we will be taking the first step in accepting the full Torah next week on Shavuot. At a time when the Jewish community is so divided, let?€™s use Shabbat to get reunited.

 
Nachshon Ben Aminadav, A True Leader Print E-mail
Thursday, 25 May 2006

At the beginning of Parshat Bamidbar, we read about one leader from each tribe who is designated to help Moshe count B'nai Yisrael (the Jewish people).

The leader from the tribe of Yehudah is Nachshon Ben Aminadav.

The Gemara in Sotah 36b-37a describes how Nachshon was a true leader who caused the tribe of Yehudah to sanctify God's name in public.

After B'nai Yisrael left Egypt, the Egyptians pursued them until they came to the Red Sea. At that point they were unable to continue. According to Rabbi Yehudah, when the tribes were standing at the edge of the red sea, one tribe was saying "I will not be the first to descend into the sea," while another tribe declared "I will not be the first to descend into the sea". Each tribe was unwilling to enter the water first. At that point Nachshon Ben Aminadav, the prince of the tribe of Yehudah leaped forward and descended into the sea first.

While Moshe was praying, God said "Speak to B'nai Yisrael and let them journey forth. Lift up your staff and stretch out your arm over the sea and split it; and B'nai Yisrael shall come into the midst of the sea on dry land".

On account of Nachshon's willingness to sacrifice himself, the tribe of Yehudah merited to establish dominion in Israel. As we say in the Hallel prayer concerning when Israel went out of Egypt, Psalms 114: 1-3: "Hayta Yehudah Likodsho, Yisrael Mamshelotav", Judah became God's sanctified one to rule over Israel his dominions. For what reason was Judah God's sanctified one? Because "Hayam ra'ah vayanos", the sea saw and fled.

When the sea saw Nachshon jump in, it split.

Nachson taught us the important lesson that to be a true leader it is best to follow the teaching from Pirkei Avot, "Omer me'at v'aseh harbeh", say little, but do much.

A true leader is a leader who acts.

As the Nike ads say, Just do it!