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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Bamidbar

See You At Sinai, Soon!

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Sefer Bamidbar begins with the command to take a census of Bnei Yisrael. Now, we know that counting people is a risky business, fraught with danger, so what compelled G-d to order a counting here? After all, a census had already been taken not long ago, after the sin of the Golden Calf & the purging which followed it. So was there really a need to count again at this juncture?

A number of opinions are offered as to why this counting was held. One idea is that Am Yisrael had just heard the Tochacha in Parshat B’Chukotai, the terrible calamities that could come upon us if we sinned. We needed some assurance that Hashem still loved us, that we "still counted."

Furthermore, according to G-d’s original plan, we should have entered Eretz Yisrael immediately after Sefer Vayikra. After all, we had left Egypt, become a nation, received the Torah, built the Mishkan, & set in motion the system of offerings led by the Kohanim. What was left other than to begin our national life in our national home?

But alas, it was not to be. We would end up wandering "Bamidbar," – in the desert, for 40 years. So we needed some reassurance that G-d was not abandoning us. And by counting us, Hashem sends the message that we are all precious. No one is counted twice, however important he may be; & even the simplest person is counted once. The census conveys the concept that we may sin, but the Almighty never gives up on us.

A similar message emanates from Lag B’Omer. Isn’t it strange that we celebrate this day with such raucous joy; singing, dancing, holding weddings? After all, what actually happened here? The students of Rabbi Akiva stopped dying. That may be a positive event, but it left in its wake 24,000 dead Talmidei Chachamim! So where is the joy?

Rav M. D. Tendler suggests that what we are really rejoicing over on Lag B’Omer is the fact that Torah life was not snuffed out by this terrible tragedy. Rabbi Akiva somehow found the strength to raise up a whole new generation of Torah leaders, led by prize pupil Rav Shimon bar Yochai, who would carry the torch into the future & keep the lamp of learning lit.

The message which shines through all of this: Never give up hope. As tough as times may be, we are a resourceful, resurgent People always given the chance by G-d to start over. And so it is fitting that parshat Bamidbar is always read shortly before Shavuot, a reminder that our destiny – never to be denied – is that we will ultimately all meet Ish Echad B’Lev Echad, as 1 person with 1 heart, on Har Sinai.
Rabbi Stewart Weiss
Was ordained at the Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Illinois, and led congregations in Chicago and Dallas prior to making Aliyah in 1992. He directs the Jewish Outreach Center in Ra'anana, helping to facilitate the spiritual absorption of new olim.
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