Torah Weekly

For the week ending 8 June 2024 / 2 Sivan 5784

Parshat Bamidbar

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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The Book of Bamidbar — "In the desert" — begins with Hashem commanding Moshe to take a census of all men over age twenty — old enough for service. The count reveals just over 600,000. The levi'im are counted separately later on because their service will be unique. They will be responsible for transporting the Mishkan and its furnishings, and assembling them when the nation encamps. The 12 Tribes of Israel, each with its banner, are arranged around the Mishkan in four sections: east, south, west and north. Since Levi is singled out, the tribe of Yosef is split into two tribes, Efraim and Menashe, so there will be four groups of three. When the nation travels, they march in a formation similar to the way they camp.

A formal transfer is made between the first-born and the levi'im, whereby the levi'im take over the role the first-born would have had serving in the Mishkan if not for the sin of the golden calf. The transfer is made using all the 22,000 surveyed levi'im from one month old and up. Only levi'im between 30 and 50 will work in the Mishkan. The remaining first-born sons are redeemed with silver, similar to the way we redeem our first-born today. The sons of Levi are divided into the three main families of Gershon, Kehat and Merari (besides the kohanim — the special division from Kehat's family). The family of Kehat carried the Menorah, the Table, the Altar and the Holy Ark. Because of their utmost sanctity, the Ark and the Altar are covered only by Aharon and his sons, before the levi'im prepare them for travel.


Shock Treatment

Two weeks ago, I died.

Two weeks ago I was feeling more than usually tired and a little bleary. Two years ago I underwent an ablation procedure for atrial flutter, a common heart condition not in itself dangerous, but which can lead to serious complications. Baruch Hashem, the ablation was successful.

A couple of weeks ago, I started to feel the same symptoms. So, I went to get an ECG. I wasn’t feeling terrible, so I said to the nurse after he’d taken the reading, “Ok, thanks very much. I’ll check the results on your website later…” He said, “YOU are not going anywhere until we get the results from the lab and you get a release! So, there I was – The Prisoner of Meuhedet Health Insurance!

Fifteen minutes later, he came running out of the nurses’ station and said with a very worried look on his face, “Look there’s ABSOLUTELY nothing to worry at all! Just stay calm and RELAX!!” He looked about as relaxed as a snowflake on top of an electric range. “Now you just sit down there and the ambulance will be here in a jiffy!” He continued, “I wonder if I should make an incision in your arm for the IV? Or they’ll do that in the hospital...”

I thought to myself: “Whoa! Just one second! I walked in here and I can walk out too!” But, I recalled John Webster’s observation in The Duchess of Malfi: “Physicians are like kings. They brook no contradiction.” So, I sat down and I thought, “Your day doesn’t always go the way you scripted it.” I walked in to the clinic and I’m leaving on a gurney with sympathetic faces watching me being wheeled into an ambulance.

They whisked me off to Hadassah Mount Scopus and the doctors decided to give me Shock Treatment to try and jolt the heartbeat back to normal. It was a decidedly bizarre experience being led to the treatment bed by a couple of burly Arab male nurses in the middle of a war.

During the cardioversion, or shock treatment, I knew that my heart would actually stop for a moment. That’s a bit like dying, isn’t it?

At Mount Sinai, when Hashem said: “I am Hashem, your G-d,” the entire Jewish People died, as the Talmud relates. And Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said: From each and every utterance that emerged from the mouth of the Holy One, Blessed be He, the souls of the Jewish people left their bodies, as it is stated: “My soul departed when He spoke” (Song of Songs 5:6).

And since their souls left their bodies from the first utterance, how did they receive the second utterance? Rather, Hashem rained the dew upon them that, in the future, will revive the dead, and He revived them, as it is stated: “You, Hashem, poured down a bountiful rain; when Your inheritance was weary You sustained it.” (Psalms 68:10, Shabbat 88b)

In other words, when Hashem said, “I am Hashem, your G-d,” the Jewish People experienced a revelation of Hashem that was such a shock and so compelling that the life-force inside them was inexorably drawn to its Source. In other words, they died.

And when Hashem revived them, that ultimate and intimate contact with the Divine, “I am Hashem, your G-d,” was burned indelibly into their souls. It was a knowledge of Hashem’s existence, transcending all necessity for intellectual proof; an A Priori knowledge as unshakeable as the knowledge of one’s own existence.

This is why the Jewish People are alive and well and living in Israel. And this is why we have the extraordinary capacity to give our lives to sanctify Hashem’s name.

The festival of Shavuot celebrates the moment when our deepest perception of our own existence and the existence of Hashem became one.

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