The Book of Numbers
On the first day of the second month, in the second year following the exodus from the land of Egypt, Hashem spoke to Moshe in the wilderness of Sinai, in the Tent of Meeting, saying:
When the Book of Bamidbar (literally, ‘in the wilderness’) begins, the Israelites are in the wilderness, having left Egypt and received the Torah, and are preparing to travel to Israel. They are preparing militarily, hence the English name of the fourth book of the Bible is ‘Numbers,’ since they are organizing and counting their ranks. As well, they are preparing spiritually for life as a nation following the laws of the Torah in their ancestral homeland.
However, during the course of Bamidbar, the plan derails. The people complain, turn against God and His servant Moses, and arouse the anger of the Almighty. Instead of heading immediately into the Land, they are punished with wandering the desert for forty years. The people lost their opportunity to enter Israel; only the next generation would be given that opportunity. God, who is merciful and compassionate, suddenly cannot forgive. What did the people do to deserve such a harsh punishment?
Jewish tradition teaches that the generation committed an inexcusable violation in that they rejected the Land of Israel. “Why is the Lord taking us to that land to fall by the sword?” they cry out in Chapter 14. Instead of eagerly claiming their ancestral heritage and assuming their divine mission, the people second-guess God, cynically call His will into question, and critically reject this greatest of gifts.
The rest of Numbers continues this downward spiral. In Chapter 16, the authenticity and qualifications of Moshe and Aharon are called into question, and a full fledged rebellion against their leadership is launched. Later, in Chapter 20, the people complain about the lack of water in the wilderness, and in yet another affront to God, the people became involved in idolatry and immoral relations in Shittim in Chapter 25.
But it all started with a rejection of the Land. In fact, Jewish tradition teaches that a lack of honor towards Israel is the source of many calamities throughout history, including the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem. The lessons of the Bible are as relevant today than ever before, and when studying Bamidbar, we must learn from the spies in order to constantly re-evaluate our own relationship with the Land of Israel. The Israel Bible is meant to provide our generation with the ability to better appreciate the divine gift of the Land of Israel.
Rabbi Naphtali Weisz
Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel
April 2014, Nissan 5774