Thursday, May 24, 2012

One, Two, Three ...


In Parshas Bamidbar we see the plans for the layout of the Israelite camp, the circular pattern that echoed the positions of the sons of Yaakov as they carried his coffin to its eternal resting place. The torah goes through each tribe and lists how many there were and in which direction they should camp. But, wait ! Didn't the Torah just list a regular census in which every tribe was counted ? Why count the Jewish people twice in as many chapters ? ( Census 1 is written in perek alef while the camp layout, and it's population register, is recorded in perek beis)

To answer this seeming redundancy, we must ask ourselves as to the purpose of the census to begin with.  Rashi, commenting on the first accounting, tells us that the census was an expression of love. Hashem loves us and therefore counts us frequently as a demonstration of His affection. When something is precious we are constantly aware of how much of it we have. (This would also explain why an Omniscient G-d would need to perform a count to know how many yidden there are. He doesn't. The act of counting is a show of love.) That is why this census was taken in the tribes' birth order. Hashem loves us, not just for what we do, but for who we are – and we came into being in that order.

The second accounting, highlighted a different aspect of the Jewish nation, our differing roles. There are twelve tribes because there is a need for many distinct types of yidden. Not everyone was born to lead like Yehudah or guard the Mishkan like Levi. There are scholars like Yissachar and merchants like Zevulun. And they all have their unique place in the tapestry of Jewish communal life.

By listing the different locations of each tribe the Torah is emphasizing our distinct identities. But by counting the Jews for a second time, along with giving them their "marching orders", the Torah is stating unequivocally that Hashem's affection for us is unconditional to us fulfilling those roles. Yes, we each have a unique place in the camp that we must shore up and support. But, no, our place amongst G-d's beloved children isn't dependant on that. Hashem begins by counting us – just for who we are – and only afterwards counting us for what we should, and could, do.

Hatzlacha !! 

Friday, May 18, 2012

You Are What You Are


The final chapters of parshas Bechukosay are called parshas Erchin. There the Torah describes the relative value that an item has if it is pledged to the Beis HaMikdash. This even includes people. That means that if I say – "I will donate my daughter to the Beis HaMikdash" – there is a specific amount of money I have to give.

We might think this is a bad thing. We may be insulted or think that the Torah is belittling us to give us a dollar amount as our self worth.

The truth is exactly the opposite.

When a person thinks about themselves – they always think it terms of what they've done. "Oh, I am great because I did this and that", or "I'm not such hot stuff since I once did that…" What the Torah is teaching us in the parsha of Erchin is that Yidden have an intrinsic value. No matter how good or bad you have been recently and without any consideration as to your recent accomplishments (or, chas veshalom, failures).

This should be a shining light for a Jew. To know that we are worth an incredible amount – just for who we are. And to whom are we worth this much? To Hashem!

Perhaps this is why we read parshas Bechukosay right before receiving the Torah. We must first internalize the concept of an intrinsic value – only then can we begin to appreciate the tremendous gift that we are being given as befitting our value.

Hatzlacha ! 

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Brand New and Still Gleaming !

"...תספרו חמישים יום, והקרבתם מנחה חדשה לד'" [ויקרא כג:טז]
"… you shall count fifty days and bring a new offering to Hashem" [Vayikra 23:16]

The Shavuous flour offering is called a 'new' offering since it is the first flour offering to be brought from the new wheat harvest of the year. Prior flour offerings (such as the ones that accompanied the daily korbanos in the Beis Hamikdash) were made using last year's wheat.
The Kli Yakar, however, gives us an incredible angle from which to view the 'new-ness' of this offering.
Shavuous is unique amongst the Jewish holidays, the date of its occurrence is conspicuously omitted from the Torah. The best description we have is "…count fifty days". What could be the reason behind the omission ? Precisely this idea, that it could be anytime. If you know something will happen at a particular date – you might feel that it is only applicable then. For example, everyone appreciates mom on mother's day, but what about every other day of the year ?! By marking a specific day, we are, in fact, lessening the impact of any event upon all subsequent days.
For this reason, says the Kli Yakar, the fact that Shavuous is the day that the Torah was given was not mentioned at all, and its date is purposely obscured. So that we can assume that it happened any day !
This is also the reasoning behind the label of the 'new offering'. The Torah should be continually embraced, but not just as some old set of rules that we do by rote. The Torah should be clung to like it was a brand new possession, shiny and enticing. IT is therefore only fitting to bring a 'new' offering on the holiday that celebrates the continual and perpetual renewal of our covenant with the Torah.
So why post this now and not at Shavuous time ? That's exactly the point ! We got the Torah today, too !!
Hatzlacha !!