These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Tapes on the weekly portion: CD #989 – The Mitzva of Talmud Torah: How Much / How Little? Good Shabbos!
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How Precious Life Is
Parshas Bamidbar begins with a census of the Jewish people. In fact, rabbinic literature refers to the book of Bamidbar as the “Chumash of the counts” (Chomesh haPekudim). Even in the secular world, the fourth of the “Five Books of Moses” is referred to as the Book of Numbers. The Torah in this parsha goes through every single tribe, listing how many people (males above the age of 20) were in that tribe, and then at the end provides a final tabulation: “These were all the counted ones of the Children of Israel, according to their fathers’ house, from twenty years of age and up, everyone who goes out to the army in Israel: All their counted ones were 603,550.” [Bamidbar 1:45-46].
The Torah’s narration then moves onto the story of the “Flags”. There were four Camps, each with 3 tribes. The Torah lists which tribe was in each camp. For instance the Torah says [Bamidbar 2:3-4]: “Those who encamp to the front, at the east, shall be the division of the camp of Judah according to their armies – and the prince of the children of Judah is Nahshon son of Amminadav – its army and their counted ones are 74,600.” So too, for each of the tribes the Torah tells us the prince of the tribe and the number of people in that tribe – even though the Torah just listed these exact numbers in the previous chapter describing the census! If this were not enough, at the conclusion of the description of the flag encampments the Torah once again gives us the sum total of all the camps: “These are the counts of the Children of Israel according to their fathers’ house; all the counts of the camps according to their armies, 603,550.” [Bamidbar 2:32]
If any parsha in the Torah contains redundancies – this is it. We know the Torah is usually so stingy with its words. Normally we expound major laws from even an extra (letter) vov. The Medrash here comments on this: The redundant reference to the numbers of Tribes of Israel individually and the redundant reference to the population of the entire nation collectively is indicative of Hashem’s love for the Jewish people. We are so precious to Him that – as it were – He loves to count us repeatedly.
We can appreciate this if we imagine a collector of rare coins. He has a special place where he keeps his coin collection and every so often, he takes them out and counts them repeatedly. This is his treasure. The Medrash says we are the treasure of the Almighty so He counts us repeatedly — by tribe, by grand total, and again by tribe and by grand total.
The Ramban, however, gives a different explanation for the apparent redundancy. The Ramban notes that three weeks transpired from the time when they were originally counted until the day they actually set up the system of travelling with the flags. During those 21 days, miraculously, no one died from the entire nation. They had 603,550 people at the start of the period and they had the exact same 603,550 people at the end of the period. According to actuarial tables, in 21 days, out of a population of 600,000+, it is inevitable that there will be deaths! I read a statistic recently that every single day there are 100 military funerals in the United States (of veterans of past wars). The Ramban claims that the reason the Torah repeated these numbers is to highlight the miracle that in 21 days nobody died.
However, we can still ask as follows. The Torah is so stingy with its use of letters. Why is this miracle so important that it was worthy of expending all these pasukim [verses] to tell us about this “miracle”? Reb Leib Rotkin wrote an insight on this question that he said he heard in the Yeshiva in Kletsk. He writes that this miracle is so important because of a major principle of Judaism: Whoever preserves the life of a single Jew is considered as if he preserved the entire world (kol ha’mekayem nefesh achas m’yisrael k’ilu kiyem olam maleh). Life is so precious, that even saving one individual is like saving an entire world.
The halacha is that we desecrate Shabbos to save a person’s life. We even desecrate Shabbos to give a person a couple of extra hours. The Torah lets us know how important Jewish life is by spending all these pasukim to tell us one thing: nobody died! Human life is so precious that this is a miracle that bears repeating repeatedly in an elaborate manner with redundant verbiage, as the Torah does in this parsha. Every life makes a difference. Every person makes a difference. Every day of living makes a difference.
Transcribed by David Twersky; Jerusalem DavidATwersky@gmail.com
Technical Assistance by Dovid Hoffman; Baltimore, MD firstname.lastname@example.org
This week’s write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissochar Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Series on the weekly Torah portion.
A listing of the halachic portions for Parshas Bamidbar is provided below:
- 013 Yerushalayim in Halacha
- 058 Going Up To Yerushalayim for Yom Tov: Does it Apply Today?
- 101 Teaching Torah to Women
- 147 Sefiras HaOmer, Shavuos & the International Dateline
- 194 Can One Charge for Teaching Torah?
- 240 An Early Start for Shavuos?
- 284 Birchas HaTorah
- 330 Sefer Rus and Its Halachic Implications
- 374 Bathing On Shabbos and Yom Tov
- 418 Shavuos Issues–Late Maariv–Learning All Night
- 462 May A Child Carry A Sefer On Shabbos
- 506 Shavuos: Two Days, She’cheyanu & Other Issues
- 550 Opening Cans on Shabbos & Yom Tov
- 594 Omer Davar B’Sheim Omro – Giving Proper Credit
- 638 Eruv and the Big City
- 682 Carrying on Yom Tov
- 726 Returning Pidyon Haben Money
- 770 Let Them Eat Cheesecake
- 814 Oy, The Eruv is Down, Now What?
- 858 Ms. Cohen for A Pidyon Habein?
- 902 Dancing on Yom Tov
- 946 The Beautiful Poem of Akdomus
- 989 The Mitzva of Talmud Torah – How Much – How Little?
- 1033 Conning Someone Out of A Mitzva
- 1077 Can A Father Give Son His Position (Rabbi/Chazan) While Still Alive?
- 1120 The Zohar vs Talmud Bavli: Whom Do We Pasken Like?
- 1162 Yahrtzeit/Yizkor Candles on Yom Tov – Is There A Problem?
- 1206 What Bracha on Cheesecake? Is It BH or BSD? And other Shavuos Issues
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