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PARSHAT BAMIDBAR 5784: UNDERSTANDING PURPOSE AND UNITY

בס”ד

PARSHAT BAMIDMAR 5784

Introduction: Initial Impressions

My initial reaction after reading the parashah was that it was quite a boring piece. Why all these names, what does it matter? And then the division of tasks, who does what and how, what does that matter? Obviously, this must have importance for the Jewish people. But well, everything has a reason and we can learn something from everything.

Counting the Names: Recognizing Individual Value

All the names, all the people are counted. In Hebrew, this is called s’u et rosh, which literally means “lift the head.” Through this counting, everyone in the nation is reminded of how precious they are to the Eternal and that they all are part of His master plan. People may all look the same, but everyone has their own identity. Each person has a unique purpose/task that only they can fulfill in that specific place. This awareness gives meaning to life. Tachlit (a goal given by the Eternal) – a reason to lift one’s head and face life’s challenges with strength and dignity.[1]

The beauty of this parashah is that each person has their own purpose/task. It’s important for everyone to understand their place and not be jealous of others’ tasks. When there’s no jealousy and there’s unity within the people, they’re addressed as one person, in singular. Rashi uses Exodus 19:2 to elaborate on this concept. “The Israelites camped at the mountain.” However, the Torah uses the singular vayichan, “he camped,” instead of vayachanu, “they camped [2]

Navigating Jealousy: Understanding Chosenness and Unity

Jealousy is a big problem. In my opinion, much of anti-Semitism originates from jealousy and misunderstanding. It’s not for nothing that the church sees and names itself as the chosen people. Within Torah “chosen” means that Jews have a special task, that they must adhere to the 613 mitzvot, to the Torah. It doesn’t mean, as the church has ultimately come to use the term about itself, to show superiority over other groups. [3] Just as it would be ridiculous for non-Levite Jews to be jealous of the Levites or the Jewish priests, and absurd for the Jewish priests to be jealous of the High Priest, it should be completely absurd for the nations to be jealous of Israel. Once it’s understood that the High Priest, the priests, the priests and the Levites are in service of the entire Jewish people, and the people are in service of the world, this jealousy disappears. However, jealousy is difficult to eradicate. Apparently, as humans, we have an innate tendency to want what others have.

Reflections for Bnei Noach

What I sometimes notice is that Bnei Noach are not always satisfied with “only” the Seven Noahide Laws and have a certain form of desire for the other mitzvot. For example, they also want to lay tefillin or celebrate the Passover seder. How would it be if “ordinary” Jews wanted to wear the clothing of the High Priest? That is clearly not okay, or if “ordinary” Jews thought they could also offer sacrifices? There are certain mitzvot that Bnei Noach should not accept upon themselves, such as putting on tefillin, and when it comes to taking on Jewish practices, they should have specific personal meaning and it must be clear to the practitioner that it is a voluntary practice.

Reflections on Inclusion and Purpose

I began my writing with the counting of names, being counted, knowing what your task is and what your purpose is. Perhaps for some Bnei Noach (or people considering acceptance of the Noahide Commandments), the question arises: Do we count and what is our task in the whole?

Unity in Purpose

Let’s approach this question differently too. Are “ordinary” Jews not counted because they’re not priests, and do the priests not count because they’re not High Priests? If we always go back to this circle, the answer is clear: of course, we count too. Every human is valuable and necessary for the Eternal, otherwise you wouldn’t exist. We don’t count as a “priestly people,” but we do count as part of humanity, as part of the nations. Noahides have their own role to play.

Understanding Our Role

So, what is our task, what is expected of us? Also, to answer this question, we can perhaps think in circles. According to tradition, the Eternal originally wanted His Divine Presence to openly dwell in the physical world. However, Adam “sinned,” causing the Eternal to withdraw His Divine Presence into the lowest of the Seven Heavens. Then Cain sinned, causing the Eternal to withdraw His Divine Presence even farther into the Second Heaven. And so, it went with the generation of Enosh, the generation of Noah, the generation of Babel, the society of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the Egyptian society. As a result the Eternal withdraw His Divine Presence further and further from the physical world, until the Seventh Heaven. Then Abraham and five other subsequent tzaddikim came and the Eternal could return His Divine Presence step by step. And with Moses (the seventh), He could return even further back to the physical world on Mount Sinai and in the Tabernacle and in the First Holy Temple built by King Solomon.

Israel has the task of being an example to the nations and has the task of teaching the nations Torah, the seven mitzvot of Noah (which include the six mitzvot of Adam). Those who now understand this and want to live accordingly are the observant Bnei Noach. Bnei Noach have the task of showing their immediate surroundings how to put these seven mitzvot into practice, have the task of pointing out to the world around them that Israel is the light for the nations. In this way, eventually everyone will know the Eternal. In this way, everyone will come to a level of Adam, the first human being.

Everyone has his one task. Some will have the task of teaching Torah, another will have the task of giving good living examples, another will have the task of producing beautiful paintings, or how to deal with water management… plenty of examples to think of. When each person is content with its own task and grateful for the tasks others perform, there will be no jealousy among the peoples but unity instead.

Learning Points

1. Individual Value and Purpose

   – Counting the names reminds us of our preciousness to the Eternal and of the unique purpose each of us has in His plan.

2. Jealousy and Unity

   – Jealousy often stems from misunderstandings. Understanding Israel’s role as the “chosen” people, responsible for adhering to their obligations in Torah, prevents misconceptions of superiority and promotes unity.

3. Role of Bnei Noach

   – Bnei Noach may seek to adopt practices of some other mitzvot, but it’s important to understand the distinction between Jewish ritual mitzovt and and logical mitzvot to avoid misappropriation.It is the logically beneficial mitzovt which may be observed in practice by Bnei Noach, in addition to their Seven Commandments.

4. Recognition of Diversity

   – Everyone contributes to humanity, regardless of their religious or cultural background. Understanding and embracing this diversity without jealousy fosters unity and harmony.


By Angelique Sijbolts

Sources:

[1] Article Aish: We All Count by Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis
[2] Ariticle Aish: Parasha of the week by  Rabbi Kalman Packouz
[3] Waarom worden Joden gehaat.
[4] Article AksNoah: Are Noahides permitted to observe Jewish ritual commandments?

Text Sefaria.org

* I use the word Mitzvot not only as “commandment” but also as “good deed.”
See the Chabad Article: What is a Mitzvah?

With thanks to Rabbi Tani Burton and Dr. Michael Schulman for the imput and feedback

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