Torah.org Home Subscribe Services Support Us
 
Print Version

Email this article to a friend

Parshas Bamidbar

Not Just Numbers

This week’s parsha marks the beginning of our reading of the fourth book of the Torah. The book concerns itself with the travels and travails of the Jewish people during their sojourn in the desert of Sinai. The book is replete with names of the leaders of the tribes of Israel, the count of the number of people in the camp of Israel and of many events that shaped the future of Israel for many generations to come. All of the commentators to Torah are perplexed by the great detail recorded in the book of Bamidbar. Of what value is it to know the names of the leaders of the tribes of Israel? And what do the numbers of the count of the individual tribes and families of the Jewish people teach us? In a Torah where every word and nuance is important, why all of the long detail and the names and numbers that are seemingly unimportant facts? There are many and varied explanations to this challenging problem, but I wish to dwell on one idea that I hope will give us more meaning and understanding in the parsha and the book of Bamidbar itself as well.

The Torah is determined to emphasize to us the importance of each and every person in this world. Merely stating that there were approximately six hundred thousand male Jews from the ages of twenty to sixty only gives us a statistic. Most statistics are faceless, impersonal and sometimes even meaningless. They never carry a moral or even educational lesson to the reader. They are cold numbers. The Torah therefore personalizes the numbers in this week’s parsha and in the book of Bamidbar generally. It does give us the names of the leaders of the tribes and their fathers and families and traces for us their lineage. It tells us that some of them had large families and others much smaller ones. It points out the difference in numbers and in leadership of each of the tribes so that we should not view the Jewish society then – and certainly now – as being monolithic. Through the numbers that are now flesh and blood people, the stage is set for understanding some of the later events that occurred in the desert – the rebellion of Korach and the behavior of Pinchas and Zimrii for example. The challenges of Moshe in leading the people of Israel in the desert of Sinai are more understandable to us when we see the wide variety and great numbers of people who he had to deal with day in and day out for forty years. Once the numbers are personalized and broken down the story becomes much clearer and more relevant to every age.

It is one thing to say that the Holocaust destroyed six million Jews. But that statement of fact remains impersonal and cold, unfeeling and without emotion. However, reading or listening to the story of just one Holocaust survivor brings the whole awful tragedy into immediacy and some understanding. Lifting the count of the Jewish people from mere statistics to a position of human empathy and understanding is part of the goal of this week’s parsha and the entire book of Bamidbar.

Shabat shalom.
Rabbi Berel Wein


Text Copyright © 2005 by Rabbi Berel Wein and Torah.org


 






ARTICLES ON NETZAVIM AND VAYEILECH:

View Complete List

Going Beyond Realization
Rabbi Yosef Kalatsky - 5763

He Will Return
Shlomo Katz - 5767

Speaking Of Redemption
Rabbi Pinchas Winston - 5762

ArtScroll

Spiritual Impressions
Rabbi Pinchas Winston - 5773

Moses's Legacy Goes On
Rabbi Berel Wein - 5771

The 'New' of the New Year
Rabbi Dovid Green - 5758

> Standing By The Covenant
Rabbi Berel Wein - 5765

Parshios Netzavim & Vayeilech
Shlomo Katz - 5771

Teshuva Must Take Into Account the Root Cause of Sin
Rabbi Yissocher Frand - 5770

Frumster - Orthodox Jewish Dating

The Spiritual Environment
Rabbi Chaim Flom - 5767

Reaching Within
Rabbi Shlomo Jarcaig - 5763

Battle Hymn of the Republic
Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky - 5759

Looking for a Chavrusah?

Do It For the Kids
Rabbi Yaakov Menken - 5759

Love your Neighbor as Yourself
Rabbi Yisroel Ciner - 5760

So It Is Written
Rabbi Label Lam - 5765

The Good, The Bad, and The Ready
Rabbi Pinchas Winston - 5766



Project Genesis

Torah.org Home


Torah Portion

Jewish Law

Ethics

Texts

Learn the Basics

Seasons

Features

TORAHAUDIO

Ask The Rabbi

Knowledge Base




Help

About Us

Contact Us



Free Book on Geulah!




Torah.org Home
Torah.org HomeCapalon.com Copyright Information