The Torah was given for ME
As the Torah continues through its yearly cycle, we start the fourth out of the Five Books of Moses this week. In the previous book, we focused our attention on the Mishkan, the moving Temple in the dessert, with discussions of sacrifices, holy vessels and alters, along with priests and their garments. Now the Torah turns towards the journey of the Children of Israel. Throughout this book, we learn of the spies and those that rose up to destroy us, as well as mutiny, red cows and the death of Miriam.
This week, we learn specifically about the set-up of their camp – what it looked like and the position of the Tribes in relation to each other. Importantly, we also hear of the census; Hashem tells Moshe to count the Jewish People. The most obvious of questions is often asked at this point – why does God need to count us? Does he not know how many of us there are? What is the point of this exercise, especially as it is not so logistically simple?
The answer is beautiful, and one that relates to us all. God, of course, does not need to count us for His needs, but He does want to make us feel special. The purpose of counting is to make us feel like each individual is important and has immense value. The process of counting is symbolic; whether we are the greatest leader and scholar of a generation or a lowly pauper, this is of no concern with regard to how we are viewed by God. During this count, we are all placed on the same plain, liberated by equality and unity.
Let’s take it one step further. This Sedra is read every year on the Shabbat directly before Shavuot, and the Talmud explicitly says this has to be the case. The reason is linked to the census. It is not enough that each individual is made to feel important; further to that, the idea is that each of us should feel that the Torah is for me! With Shavuot and the giving of the Torah fast approaching, we should all feel that the Torah is accessible and relevant to me. One must not say that they don’t know what the Torah is about and therefore not relevant to their life; it is just the opposite. One should be approaching Shavuot feeling empowered that the Torah is, in fact, accessible to everyone, anywhere and at any time.
There is a wonderful Midrash, which relates that when The Torah was given at Sinai, it was with three elements – fire, water and the dessert. There are verses that explain why each one is applicable to that National Revelation at Sinai, but what is the link between these three for our purposes? Just like these are free and widely available to us, so too is the Torah free with unlimited accessibility. The Torah is ready for the taking and has all the potential for us to grasp.
We have to find our own portion of Torah, deep-rooted within each and every one of us. Whatever our level of knowledge or observance, there is so much we can learn from and grow towards. Shavuot is a prime opportunity over a short 2 day festival to reengage with the Torah and the special relationship I can build with my creator.
This week, we not only have a new sedra but we also start the fourth of the five books of Moses. Each one of the 5 books has its own theme and contains underlying messages throughout, linking each sedra to the next.
Bamidbar is a story of adjustment, the Jewish People begin their journey from a supernatural existence, based on obvious miracles to a life based in the laws of nature. Throughout their forty years travelling the dessert they are surrounded by God’s presence in a very visible way. They are led, fed, cleaned and protected whilst journeying throughout the wilderness, and many of the great sins that befall on them are for fear of losing this ultimate protection. As the Jewish people enter the land of Israel they will no longer live with these open miracles, but will have to rely on God’s protection behind natures mask.
Bamidbar opens with the national census that Moshe carried out. Rashi comments that by counting each individual in the nation we are showing the value of every single member of our community. Each person matters and each has their own specific role to fill in society. On top of the census each of the Twelve Tribes is given its own place in the Camp of Israel with its own flag and infrastructure. The only one singled out was the Tribe of Levi – these where the Cohanim, the Priests, and the Levim who had both been given specific tasks and privileges in the temple. Furthermore, The Torah instructs non-tribe members that they will be punished for attempting to join these ranks.
Why is there such segregation? Would it not be more inclusive for the Torah to allow anyone to partake in all of the processes of the temple service?
The answer is not only simple but it is should be engraved into our hearts and minds. People are individuals, they have their own inherent strengths and weaknesses – not everyone is born with the ability to do everything. Some can sing, some are handy, some are articulate, some are artistic. Many people have a great sense of direction and others have no short term memory. There are those that can form complicated equations in their head and plenty of people who cannot do sport. Just like Moshe separated the Tribes giving each its own identity and position, God built us all in different ways but gave each of us the tools to succeed in life.
Just as the Cohen was selected to bring an offering and the Levi to play his instrument, He is signifying to His people that we cannot do it all.
Each of us has to look deep inside, learn and understand our strengths and weaknesses and do our best to achieve our true unique potential.