Our Sacred Partnerships

Our Sacred Partnerships

May 22, 2020 By Mychal Springer | Commentary | Bemidbar

The Midrash teaches us that God destroyed the world several times before creating our world (Bereishit Rabbah 3:7 and 9:2). Famously, after the flood, God establishes a covenant with Noah, Noah’s sons, and all living things. God says: “I will maintain My covenant [beriti] with you: never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth” (Gen. 9:11). When we read this verse in light of the midrash, we understand that God came very close to destroying the world again, but managed to enact a symbolic destruction, providing some people and some of the living creatures with a way to survive. This covenant is the vehicle for keeping humanity and all of creation connected with the divine even when rupture looms as a possibility.

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Counting Ourselves As Israel

Counting Ourselves As Israel

Jun 7, 2019 By Leonard A. Sharzer | Commentary | Bemidbar | Shavuot

Sefer Bemidbar, the Book of Numbers, which we begin reading this week, opens with the taking of a census. After the rather arcane matters we have been reading about in recent weeks—the sacrificial cult, laws of purity and impurity, skin eruptions, bodily discharges, and so on—the monotony and repetitiveness of this week’s parashah comes almost as a relief.

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Politics as a Jewish Vocation

Politics as a Jewish Vocation

May 18, 2018 By Arnold M. Eisen | Commentary | Bemidbar

The book of Bemidbar, which aims to help its readers navigate the chaotic wilderness in which the Children of Israel have always lived and wandered, deals more directly than any other book of the Torah with what the great sociologist Max Weber called “Politics as a Vocation.”

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Becoming Like the Wilderness

Becoming Like the Wilderness

May 26, 2017 By Eitan Fishbane | Commentary | Bemidbar

With the start of Sefer Bemidbar, the narrative of the Torah turns to the long journey of Benei Yisrael through the wilderness—punishment for the sin of the Golden Calf and preparation for entry into the Land of Israel. Passage into the sacred terrain first requires an arduous ordeal of wandering—a physical process of movement and quest. Penitence, pilgrimage, and transformation are anchored in the space of wilderness.

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A Text That Mirrors Democracy

A Text That Mirrors Democracy

May 26, 2017 By David Marcus | Commentary | Bemidbar

The book of Numbers does not start with the word bemidbar, which occurs a little later in the first verse, but rather with vayedabber (“and he said”). In the standard Rabbinic Bible (Mikraot Gedolot), the first word of the book is introduced with an extraordinary flourish: The word vayedabber is printed in giant letters and enclosed in a decorative woodcut border in the shape of a parallelogram. This is surrounded by another rectangle consisting of two lines of Masoretic notations (traditional notes on the Biblical text) on each side; these notations are, in turn, surrounded by two biblical verses, one from Nehemiah and one from Daniel.

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Normalcy and Covenant

Normalcy and Covenant

May 19, 2007 By Arnold M. Eisen | Commentary | Bemidbar

Numbers always stands in pointed contrast to Leviticus. The overarching order of the book of the Torah that we have just completed — the routines of sacrifice, the hierarchies of priesthood, the distinctions between purity and pollution, permitted and forbidden — all this soon gives way to B’midbar, “in the wilderness,” to challenges of a different sort. The book starts by counting the people and arranging the camp for travel. But soon, we know, all those counted will be held responsible for the spies’ rebellion. Moses’ cousin Korah will attempt insurrection. The camp will wander without hope of reaching the Promised Land. We turn from Leviticus to Numbers, aware that the real world awaits us there: the one in desperate need of sacred order. We, like the Israelites, clearly have a lot to learn,

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The Poetry of Sinai

The Poetry of Sinai

May 27, 2011 By Andrew Shugerman | Commentary | Text Study | Bemidbar

I rarely encounter texts like the midrash above that so completely challenge static notions about Torah.

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How We Acquire Our Names

How We Acquire Our Names

May 18, 1996 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Bemidbar

I am not the same person I was last year when we read the book of Numbers in the synagogue.

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Diversity through Order

Diversity through Order

May 27, 2006 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Bemidbar

Order is the essence of Torah. In Genesis, God creates the world by imposing order on chaos; and in Exodus, God imposes order on a people shattered by 400 years of servitude. The transition is especially dramatic for the Israelites — their change in orientation must be two-fold, physical and spiritual. Nothing less than a revolution is required to transform these ex-slaves of Pharaoh into the loyal servants of God. And so, having proposed a legal (Revelation, specifically the laws of Torah) and ritualistic (sacrificial system as outlined in Leviticus) order for the newly freed Israelites, the Book of Numbers opens by establishing spatial order.

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The Directed Life

The Directed Life

Jun 4, 2005 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Bemidbar

Order is critical to the establishment of a just and productive society. It is no wonder then that the book of B’midbar details the meticulous arrangement of the Israelite encampment. Numbers 2:2 instructs, “the Israelites shall camp each with his standard, under the banners of their ancestral house; they shall camp around the Tent of Meeting.” The parashah then continues to list the exact placement of each tribe in relation to each other. Given this attention to organization in the Israelite camp, one might expect the journey through the desert to move along flawlessly. Yet, more than any other book of Torah, B’midbar attests to the waywardness of the Israelites. How could a people blessed with Torah, the details of the sacred service of God, and now the precise map of their camp – all designed to create an orderly and meaningful society – devolve into such chaotic ways?

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