Torah Weekly

For the week ending 31 May 2008 / 26 Iyyar 5768

Parshat Bamidbar

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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The Book of Bamidbar — "In the desert" — begins with G-d 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 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 in three main families, 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.


On Being Great

“These are the offspring of Aharon and Moshe… these are the names of the sons of Aharon…” (3:1)

The desire for greatness stirs the human spirit like none other.

We can look at the world and see it as a series of obstacles to be overcome; money, loneliness, depression, or we can look at the world as a chance to expand beyond ourselves.

For some, what lies behind the desire to take drugs is the warm embrace of oblivion, for a merciless release from the pain of consciousness.

For others, including the recently deceased Timothy Leary and those other criminally misguided drug-prophets of the sixties, it was desire to transcend the body, to connect to beyond.

In Hebrew, the noun for ‘small’ is katan, which is connected to the word katua, meaning ‘cut’ (in pronunciation very similar to its English counterpart). Being small means being cut off. Similarly, the Hebrew word for great is gadol, which is linked to the Hebrew name Gad; “Gad is a marching troop.” (Bereshet 49:19)

The essence of a marching troop is that it goes forward; it connects this moment to the next. Greatness is a function of connection. Great people are those who connect every moment in their lives to one singular purpose, and that gives them the ability to influence and raise the sights of all who come within their sphere of influence.

“These are the offspring of Aharon and Moshe… these are the names of the sons of Aharon…” The Talmud (Sanhedrin 19b) questions why the Torah starts off by mentioning the offspring of Aharon and Moshe, and then lists only Aharon’s sons. It answers that because Moshe taught Torah to Aharon’s four sons, he was their spiritual father.

When you teach Torah to someone you are giving him or her life no less that a genetic parent.

A person’s example and his teaching are what make him truly great; that’s what allows him to transcend his mortal frame and to father the souls of others.

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