Let Me Count the Ways

Let Me Count the Ways

May 22, 2004 By Rachel Ain | Commentary | Bemidbar

“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s opening line to her love poem are extremely meaningful to us as we begin to read the fourth book of the Torah, the book of B’midbar, or Numbers. The counting of the Israelite people is a central part of this week’s parashah. The parashah begins with God instructing Moses to take a census of all the congregations of the children of Israel.

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Wilderness into Lakes

Wilderness into Lakes

May 31, 2003 By Lewis Warshauer | Commentary | Bemidbar

Eden was a well–watered place. The Bible and science agree that in the beginning, the world was moist and fluid. Unlike science, the Bible is literature, and literature with a message. It embodies themes and concerns itself with the interplay of those themes.

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Counting Pearls

Counting Pearls

May 11, 2002 By Melissa Crespy | Commentary | Bemidbar

Of the counting of people there seems to be no end! In our parashah, men of fighting age are individually counted first by their families, and then again by their position surrounding the Ohel Mo’ed — the Tent of Meeting or Tabernacle. Why, ask commentators throughout the ages, does God command all this counting? Why is it so important to list in detail and in various forms the 603,550 men age 20 and above, able to fight in the military?

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Life, the Universe, and Everything?

Life, the Universe, and Everything?

May 27, 2006 By JTS Alumni | Commentary | Bemidbar

By Rabbi Murray Ezring

Science fiction aficionados know the answer. The answer is forty-two, or so wrote Douglas Adams in his classic Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Numbers have always been important in Jewish tradition. So Adams might be correct. The number forty-two may contain tremendous religious significance. Four plus two equals six, the number of books in the Mishnah. Four times two equals eight, the number representing the covenant we have shared with our creator since the days of our patriarch Abraham. Six times seven, the result of multiplying the six days of the mundane workweek by the sanctity of Shabbat.

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Living Judaism As a Work of Art

Living Judaism As a Work of Art

May 14, 1994 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Bemidbar | Shavuot

When I was a youngster, Shavuot was the time for confirmation, a ceremony concocted in the nineteenth century along Protestant lines to replace bar-mitzvah and enhance synagogue attendance on the holiday, for Shavuot never enjoyed the popularity of Pesah. But a brief two days, it flits by without the elaborate ritual drama or stirring universal message of Pesah. The synagogue is its primary venue and there is little for us to do at home, except to enjoy the restful interlude with family and friends.

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Universal Service of God

Universal Service of God

Jun 3, 1995 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Bemidbar

Though the Jerusalem Temple is long gone, time has not erased the threefold division of ancient Israel into KohanimLeviim and Yisraelim. Ritual, as it so often does, helps to preserve collective memory. In many synagogues, the first two aliyot to the Torah are still given to a Kohen and a LeviYisraelim, who constitute the majority of us, are not called to the Torah until the third aliyah. On Passover the three matzot that bedeck our seder plates are named (from top to bottom) KohenLevi and Yisrael. In old cemeteries, a pair of hands symbolic of the priestly benediction often mark the tombstone of a Kohen, while the grave of a Levi whose task was to pour water over the hands of the priests before the recitation of the blessing, is signified by a tilted pitcher.

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Who Counts?

Who Counts?

May 30, 1998 By Anne Lapidus Lerner | Commentary | Bemidbar

There was tension in the air that night in 1974 as members of Manhattan’s Tifereth Israel – Town and Village Synagogue filled the social hall, eager to join battle on the critical question of whether or not we would count women in the minyan. For those now accustomed to including women, the practice in about 85% of Conservative synagogues today, it may be hard to imagine the emotion that crackled through the air. Rumors about what different people would say were rife. Everyone knew that the rabbi, Stephen C. Lerner, was in favor of changing the policy. Some said that his own father, a respected member of the shul, disagreed with him. As the rabbi’s wife, I was concerned when my father–in–law raised his hand to speak. “When I was a boy growing up in the Ukraine,” said he with a bit of an accent, “and they asked the local peasants how many people had come to the town meeting, they would say twenty people and ten Jews. I think that we should stop counting that way.” The congregation voted overwhelmingly in favor of including women in the minyan.

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Counting People

Counting People

Jun 5, 2005 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Bemidbar

The book of Numbers opens on a triumphant note.

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Midrash and Monticello

Midrash and Monticello

Jun 3, 2000 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Bemidbar

A few years ago, my wife and I took a trip to Monticello, Jefferson’s estate in Virginia. And while the splendor of the estate is reflected by a magnificently furnished mansion, extensive library, and extraordinary mountain backdrop, I found myself impressed by something far less grand: the vegetable gardens. They were exquisitely arranged. Each vegetable plant, as well as each species, had its place in the garden. Beefsteak tomatoes were planted in a wholly separate row from the plum tomatoes; hybrid peas blossomed in splendid isolation from the green beans; and red cabbage sprouted at a comfortable distance from its green counterpart. Every vegetable had its proper place and marker, such that each could easily be identified.

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Leadership Through “Contraction”

Leadership Through “Contraction”

May 26, 2001 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Bemidbar

The fourth book of the Torah, Numbers, opens eleven months after the revelation at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:1) and one month after the completion of the Tabernacle (Exodus 40:17). It resumes the story line interrupted by Leviticus, which is almost entirely devoid of narrative content. What follows is a series of gripping events that punctuate and account for an unexpected forty–year trek through the wilderness, culminating on the steppes of Moab east of the Jordan River just prior to Moses’ death. Hence, the Hebrew name of the book Bemidbar–In the Wilderness, comes closer to capturing the sweep of the narrative.

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