Friday, June 03, 2016

Bamidbar 5631 First & Second Ma'amarim

The Significance of the Census - Drawing Down the Light by Harking Back to Our Roots

In this week’s parsha a census is conducted that counts the entire nation of Israel.  God tells Moshe Rabbeinu to count the Levites separately for, “... וְהָיוּ לִי הַלְוִיִּם/… the Levites shall be Mine.” (Bamidbar 3:12)  Why did God single out the Levites?  Why did He make them His?  The Midrash, addressing this question, says that whoever brings God close, God, in turn, brings that person close to Him.[1]  After the sin of the golden calf, the Levites brought God close to them.  In response to Moshe Rabbeinu’s call, “Whoever is for God, come to me! All the children of Levi gathered around him.” (Shmos 32:26)  God, in turn, brought the Levites close to Him.

The Chiddushei HaRim points out, though, that the Levites were not the only ones who resisted the temptation to sin.  In fact, most of the nation did not participate in the idol worship.  Why, then, did God bring particularly the Levites close to Him?  The Chiddushei HaRim notes, that there is a big difference between passively not sinning and actively taking a stand.  According to the Chiddushei HaRim, Chazal are teaching us this difference.  The Levites, by gathering around Moshe made a clear declaration that they rejected the idol worship and were for God alone.  They actively drew Him near to them.  While it is certainly true that most of the rest of the nation did not participate in the idol worship, neither did they do the much more difficult thing and actively take a stand against it.  Therefore, in response to the Levites coming close to God, God drew them near to Him as well.

The Sfas Emes takes this concept a step further.  We should not infer from the Midrash and the Chiddushei HaRim’s interpretation that a relationship with God is binary – either one has a relationship with God or one does not.  Rather, our relationship with God is a continuum.  God relates to each of us according to the level of our faith in Him.  The stronger our faith, the closer He draws us to Him.  We find this concept in the first Midrash[2] of this week’s parsha.  The Midrash quotes a pasuk in Tehillim (36:7), “צִדְקָתְךָ כְּהַרְרֵי־אֵל מִשְׁפָּטֶיךָ תִּהוֹם רַבָּה .../Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains; Your judgments are like the vast deep …”  The Midrash says that the first part of the pasuk is an allusion to the righteous, whereas the second part of the pasuk alludes to the wicked.  The righteous who believe that God rules over every aspect of Creation, large and small alike, merit seeing the hidden light in everything.  The prophet Yeshaya (29:15) says that the wicked do their deeds in darkness and say, “... מִי רֹאֵנוּ וּמִי יֹדְעֵנוּ/Who sees us and who knows of us?”  They do not believe that God sees their actions.  Correspondingly, the truth is kept from them as we find in Iyov (38:15), “וְיִמָנַע מֵרְשָׁעִים אוֹרָם .../Light is withheld from the wicked.”  And as the second part of the pasuk above states, “… Your judgments are like the vast deep …”  We see, then, that whether God allows us to come close to Him, to feel His presence, depends upon our belief that His presence is with us.  When we believe His presence is here in our lives, in everything, He allows us to experience it.  If, on the other hand, we do not believe it, then God withholds His truth from us.

We find the same idea in a Midrash[3] from parshas Naso.  The Midrash says that whoever increases the glory of Heaven, increases respect for himself as well.  On the other hand, whoever decreases respect for Heaven by increasing is own honor, actually decreases his own honor while the honor of Heaven remains the same.  What is the meaning of this Midrash?  How does the honor of Heaven remain the same if, by our actions, we decrease it?  

This Midrash is based on the same concept that we’ve explained.  Whether God’s presence is revealed or hidden is dependent on the intent we imbue in our actions.  If we know and believe that we are a tool, an agent of God in this world, that we are not our own masters but rather, are doing the will of God, then God’s kingdom becomes more manifest; it becomes clearer that everything is from God.  By striving to fulfill God’s will through our actions, by believing that God is with us, we increase the honor of Heaven and as a result our own esteem increases as well.  This is the meaning of the Midrash mentioned earlier on the pasuk, “צִדְקָתְךָ כְּהַרְרֵי־אֵל .../Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains …”  The righteous see God in everything.  They draw the honor of Heaven into this world, into nature.

On the other hand, a person who believes that he is the master of all his actions, who acts to increase his own honor, is akin to an idol worshipper since he removes God from the equation.  In this case, the glory of Heaven remains as it was – hidden.  The Zohar[4] mentions the exact same idea on the pasuk, “שִׁחֵת לוֹ לֹא בָּנָיו מוּמָם .../Corruption is not His; it is His children’s flaw …” (Devarim 32:5)  The Zohar explains that our corruption prevents blessing from reaching us.  Since blessing does not reach us, we are flawed.  God remains hidden.

The notion that we have the power to draw God’s glory into the finite, that God becomes revealed in this world as a result of our actions and thoughts is mentioned by the Chiddushei HaRim.  In the first pasuk of this week’s Haftara, God told the prophet Hoshea (2:1), “וְהָיָה מִסְפַּר בְּנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵל כְחוֹל הַיָּם אֲשֶׁר לֹא־יִמַּד וְלֹא יִסָּפֵר .../The number of the children of Israel will be like the sand of the sea which cannot be measured nor counted.”  The Midrash[5] points out the contradiction in this pasuk.  The pasuk starts by relating to “the number of the children of Israel” and ends by asserting that “it cannot be measured nor counted.”  The Midrash answers that first God showed Hoshea the Jewish nation through their significant numbers until finally He showed the prophet that we will reach astronomical proportions.  First there was only one Jew – Avraham Aveinu. Then there were two, Avraham and Yitzhak.  Then there were the three Avos followed by twelve tribes, seventy souls who went down to Egypt, 600,000 males who left Egypt and finally, he compared them to the sand and the stars which effectively have no number.  

This resolves the contradiction but what is the point of it?  What is the Midrash teaching us?  The Chiddushei HaRim[6] explains that “no number” represents the infinite.  It represents God’s presence.  Numbers represent the finite, nature.  God told Hoshea that the nation of Israel has the ability to reveal the level of “no number” of the infinite within the level of “number” within the finite; we can elevate the physical, the finite to a higher level, to a level on which God is revealed in nature.  

For this reason, the beginning of this week’s parsha records the date on which God commanded Moshe Rabbeinu to take a census of the nation.  Why is the date of God’s instruction mentioned specifically by the mitzvah of the census?  We live in the physical which is governed by time.  Numbers, as we have seen connotes the physical.  The Torah is teaching us that our main mission is to draw the light of the Torah and holiness into time, into the physical.

This Midrash teaches us how.  We do it by harking back to our roots, to our forefathers.  This is the reason for the census.  It highlights the fact that although we are many, we come from one.  The census reminds us of our roots.  This is why God tells Moshe Rabbeinu, “שְׂאוּ אֶת־רֹאשׁ כָּל־עֲדַת בְּנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵל .../Take a census of the entire community of the children of Israel …” (Bamidbar 1:2)  The literal translation is, “Take the heads of the entire …”  רֹאשׁ/Head connotes רֵאשִׁית/first.  It indicates that although we are many, we must connect to those who came before us.  This is hinted at, also, by the way the census was conducted.  The pasuk[7] tells us that they declared their lineage according to their families and their paternal houses.  This was not a simple head count.  Each Jew is part of a family, a paternal house.  Each one of us has a father who has a father who has a father in an unbroken chain leading back to our first father Avraham Avinu.  This is the meaning of the pasuk in Tehillim (131:2), “אִם־לֹא שִׁוִּיתִי וְדוֹמַמְתִּי נַפְשִׁי כְגָמֻל עֲלֵי אִמּוֹ .../I swear I compared my soul to a just weaned baby next to his mother …”  We need to relate to our forebears like a just weaned baby relates to his mother.  A just weaned baby yearns for his mother and understands intuitively that she is his source.  So too, must we relate to our ancestors in this way.  We need to feel, just like the baby, that we stem from our forebears.

The holy Rav of Parshischa explains that we connect to our roots, to our forefathers, to our heritage, through our actions.  When our actions relate back to our roots, back to our forefathers, we merit infinite blessing.  We find this concept in Tana D’vei Eliyahu Raba (25).  The prophet Eliyahu teaches us that each Jew must say, “מָתַי יַגִיעוּ מַעֲשַׂי לְמַעֲשֵׂי אֲבוֹתַי אַבְרָהָם יִצְחָק וְיַעֲקֹב/When will my actions reach the level of the actions of my forefathers Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov.”  Does Eliyahu HaNaviactually expect us to reach the level of the Avos?  The Rav of Parshischa answers that the word יַגִיעוּ/reach has the same root as נְגִיעָה, the Hebrew word for “connection” or “touch.”  The prophet is not teaching us that we should aspire to reach the level of our forefathers.  Each generation is different and we cannot compare the actions of one generation to the actions of another.  Rather, he is teaching us that our actions must connect with and relate to the actions of our forefathers.  We’ve connected with the Avos when we strive to emulate them.  By connecting to our forefathers through our actions, we ultimately connect to the Source of life and draw God’s light into the physical world.

[1]Bamidbar R. 1:12
[2]Bamidbar R. 1:1
[3]Bamidbar R. 4:20
[4]Zohar 3:297b
[5]Bamidbar R. 2:14
[6]Chidushei HaRim Shmos
[7]Bamidbar 1:18

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