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The Weekly Parsha
Bamidbar (in the wilderness)
This week, we begin the book of Numbers, and over 600,000 Israelites continue to march through the wilderness to the Promised Land. God commands Moses to take a census of the entire Israelite community. The tribes arrange themselves in marching order and the duties of the Levites are outlined.
* A census is taken to organize those who are eligible for army duty. Several censuses are conducted in the Torah and the ancient sages asked why this was so. Numbers Rabbah 2:19 says that it was to demonstrate God’s love for the Jewish people, who God considered like a treasure. The people are like a valued object to be counted, caressed and recounted to make sure that the treasure is safe and nothing was lost. With each counting, God declares: “I have created the magnificent stars of the universe, yet it is Israel who will do my will.”
* A notable mitzvah that affects male Jewish infants, the pidyon haben, or redemption of the firstborn son, is outlined in Bamidbar. Originally, all firstborn sons must serve the priesthood, so chosen because the Israelites were spared the plague of the death of their firstborn during the exodus from Egypt. In Numbers 3:12, we are told that the Levites were assigned to perform these services instead of the firstborn sons, but that all other firstborns must be redeemed at the age of 30 days. Since the destruction of the Temple, a donation to tzedakah has taken the place of a giving up your firstborn son to the priesthood.
Bamidbar, an actual head-count, tribe by tribe, numbers the men eligible for military service: 603,550 in all. The census is so significant that the whole 4th Book of Moses is called "Numbers "in English. Still, we're left with an ambivalence about counting human beings. We don't like to reduce people to numbers and some historical numbers are too awful to contemplate. In ancient times, worshippers were counted indirectly by adding up their half shekel dues. Need ten for a prayer quorum? A 10-word Torah verse calling on Divine protection is used instead of numbers. At times, the Torah itself is also used as a “10th” for a minyon.
ADDITIONAL LIMUD (LEARNING)
Shavu’ot – The Festival of Weeks – and What’s Cheesecake Got to do with it?
The Israelites have been in the desert for seven weeks since leaving Egypt and they are waiting for Moses to come down from Mt. Sinai after speaking with God. Thunder and lighting and rumbling from the mountain are frightening to them. Finally, Moses descends carrying two tablets and the knowledge of the entire history of our people. 49 days in the desert, and no longer slaves, God finally reveals the Torah (“the Law”) and the 10 Commandments to the Israelites and we begin to build the society that God has intended for us.
So, what does this have to do with eating dairy products? Three explanations: The laws of kashrut, (“keeping Kosher”), which govern the proper and holy ritual slaughter and consumption of animals, were first introduced at Mt. Sinai. After learning of these laws, the Israelites could not eat the meat they had prepared, as it was not prepared according to the newly revealed laws of kashrut. Without time for a proper ritual slaughter, they ate dairy products instead, which were readily on hand. King Solomon compared the Torah to milk. He wrote: "Like honey and milk, it lies under your tongue." (Song of Songs 4:11) Another explanation: The land that was promised to us was described as “a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8)
We will celebrate Shavu’ot together next Friday, May 27 at 6:00 PM and we invite you to come and offer your best dairy dessert to share with your tribe.
WRJC Abbreviated Siddur (Prayerbook)
WRJC has created a Shabbat prayer book (Siddur) which we have typically used during the summer for Shabbat services at the Botanical Garden (or at members' houses).
As we experiment with providing hybrid (Zoom and in person) Shabbat services, the Ritual Committee recommended using the Summer Siddur as an aid for those attending the services via Zoom.