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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Bamidbar

Looking for the Lost Mothers

“Fathers and sons” may be a good name for our parasha. Mothers and daughters are somehow missing.
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"Fathers and sons" may be a good name for our parasha. Mothers and daughters are somehow missing. Moshe was commanded: "Count the entire congregation of Bnei Yisrael by their families (l’mishpechotam), by the house of their fathers, by the number of names, every male by their heads. From twenty years old, all who go out to the army in Israel, you shall count them by their legions, you and Aharon. With you shall be, a man, a man for the tribe, a man, the head of the house of their fathers he shall be. These are the names of the men..." (Bamidbar 1:2-5).

Why does the Torah mention the men so many times and leave out the women? Did the women not also go out to a desolate land and give birth to and educate children? They were at the giving of the Torah, answering, along with the men, "We will do and hear." They refused to take part in creating the Golden Calf. They clung to Eretz Yisrael and did not take part in the sin of the spies. Where did they disappear to?

We have discussed in the past that the stress on "by the house of the fathers" teaches the principle that every Jewish family should be based on. It is every Jewish child’s basic right to grow up in a family where he knows not only who his mother is but knows clearly who his father is. Doubts about this can raise issues as to the child’s ability to marry whom he likes. Laxness in this area could Heaven forbid hold back the Divine Presence from Am Yisrael and blur the difference between us and the nations. We must strive to fulfill the prophecy, "How good are your tents, Jacob, your living quarters, Israel" (Bamidbar 24:5).

What does the added phrase, l’mishpechotam (by their families) teach us? While the family nucleus should include a mother, father, daughter, and son to be complete, the mother is the most basic component that comprises the family and the subject of the pasuk above. The women then are referred to first in the pasuk, removing the question we asked.

The mother ensures the creation of the family unit and the continuity of the Jewish people. This is the highest value in the Jewish woman’s life, preceding communal work or self-development in other fields. This idea should be part of a young woman’s decision-making process as she chooses her course in life, which also affects the age she will be able to begin a family.

Let us give a practical, related idea. When a man redeems his ma’aser sheni (second tithe), which was to be used for spiritual growth in Jerusalem, he is penalized 25% for pushing off the growth. However, if a woman redeems her ma’aser sheni, she is not penalized (Rambam, Ma’aser Sheni 5:2). The reason, says the Meshech Chochma (Vayikra 27:31), is that we assume that it was the needs of raising a family that caused her to redeem.

We pray that women who, thank G-d, are educated in Torah and involved in the nation’s needs will successfully synthesize these values with that of motherhood that builds Jewish families.
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