The Book of Numbers

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

 

 

The Portion of Bamidbar

The portion of Bamidbar is the first in the book of Numbers, and opens it with a census. It has been a year since the people left Egypt, and the Tabernacle is entering its operational stage. The camp needs to be arranged around it.   God orders a census of the people be taken, and… Read More >>

 

 

The Portion of Nasso

The portion of Nasso is the longest single portion in the Torah (the combined portions of Matot-Masei, when they are read together, are longer). It continues listing the responsibilities of the various families of Levites which began in Bamidbar. From there, it elaborates on several laws, including those pertaining to a husband who suspects his wife… Read More >>

 

 

The Portion of Beha'alotecha

This busy portion contains a number of legal and technical details, as well as stories. We are told of the Levites’ appointment as assistants to the priestly service, and the celebration of Passover in the desert after the exodus. The preparations and arrangements for travel are outlined, as well. We read of two incidents in… Read More >>

 

 

The Portion of Shelach

This week’s portion focuses primarily on the Sin of the Spies, which results in God’s decree that the Israelites must wander in the desert for forty years instead of entering the land of Israel directly. It also includes details regarding a number of laws, such as the libations which must be brought alongside certain sacrifices… Read More >>

 

 

The Portion of Korach

This portion deals primarily with the rebellion of the eponymous Korah and his followers against the authority of Moses and Aaron. A cousin to the leading brothers, Korah protests Moses’s concentration of power in the family, insisting the entire nation is holy. Only God’s intervention succeeds in putting down the insurrection and restoring unity to… Read More >>

 

 

The Portion of Chukat

This action-packed portion begins with the laws of the red heifer, an unusual ritual which causes the participant to become pure, but those involved in the preparation to become impure. From there, the narrative picks up again with the death of Moses’s sister, Miriam, and a lack of water for the people. Moses and Aaron… Read More >>

 

 

The Portion of Balak

This week’s portion demonstrates the scope of the Israelites’ reputation during their desert travels. Balak, the king of Moab, hears what befell the Amorites when they stood up to God’s people and decides he does not want to meet a similar fate. He opts to hire Balaam, a Midianite sorcerer known for the power of… Read More >>

 

 

The Portion of Pinchas

Our portion picks up where last week’s left off, in the aftermath of a plague. Phineas is blessed by God for his actions and a new census of the people is taken. The brotherless daughters of Zelophehad appeal to Moses for a share in the land of Israel and God delineates the laws of inheritance.… Read More >>

 

 

The Portion of Matot

In this portion, we are taught about vows which can be annulled, about God’s revenge on the Midianites and about two tribes who wish to hand-pick their land lot. Read More >>

 

 

The Portion of Masei

In this portion, we learn of the journeys made by the Israelites in the desert and the plan for their arrival, including the division of the land. Finally, we return to the story of the daughters of Zelophehad, whose cousins are concerned that they may take their heritage and marry into another tribe. Read More >>
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