NUMBERS 1:1-4:20

A short summary of Bamidbar

You can also read previous studies on this site.


"Those who sow in sorrow will reap in joy"-- 1900 years of sowing the seeds of rebuilt Jerusalem bore fruit and joy 30 years ago. So individual and communal hardship is often a harbinger of deep eventual joy, e.g. the foxes roaming on the Temple mount after the destruction of the Temple, as predicted by the prophet. Congratulations to great religious Zionist personaliites Mr. & Mrs. Gideon Reich upon their recent marriage, during a lag in the omer, and to Rabbi Mordecai Gafni, the Jerusalem Jewish Community, and the Jewish People upon his first anniversary as Director of Milah, a "with-it" Jewish Renewal Movement, and its scholar-in-residence. Rav Gafni will explore The Psychology of Judaism 8:30 PM, Sunday June 8, 1997 at ICCY, 12a Emek Refaim, repeated, in Hebrew, Monday June 9, 8:30 PM, at The Shalom Hartman Institute, 12 Gedalyahu Alon-- a building of noteowrthy architecture. Iyar other "lag"-- 33 in the omer is the combo of Independence Day (#5) and Jerusalem Day (#28), which numbers could be read Hashem Koach, God is power.

While staying up all night, learning Torah, is a beautiful Shavuot custom, Jewish Law prohibits afflicting or torturing oneself on a holiday-- so go to sleep if you don't feel well. If you can comfortably do so, join the crowded crowd for sunrise services at the wall-- bring your own siddur. Thus I'll not schedule a learn-in this year, but I might do it anyway!

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Isn't one enough? But, tho the Torah has one overall theme-- man's struggle to realize the potential of his unique Divine Image, each book has a unique sub-theme, flowing from that preceding it; even Genesis 1 continues Deut. 34, if we view God's Word as a Simchat Torah circle. Vol. I, Genesis, portrays God's ideal world, messed up by Man-- Adam and his progeny gradually leave God and become alienated from both their own higher nature and Nature itself, via excesses of pleasure (by Adam, Eve and the Flood Generation) and power (by Cain and the Tower generation). Avraham tries to be what Adam should have been; God selects him and his descendants to continue his mission in His holy land, Israel (nee Canaan). God eventually culminates or restores Creation via a model man, Adam II, Avraham's grandson, Yaakov-Yisroel-- he blends Avraham's bold outreach (Avraham exemplifies "chesed", grace or kindness, in kabbalistic parlance) with Isaac's deep cautious discipline (called "g'vura", strength or rigor, in kabbala), to become a truly model man (he represents "tiferet", glory, or "emet", truth in the kabbalistic systems). Genesis ends with the final "natural" stage of Re-Creation, a model family-- tho Yaakov's 12 sons, human archetypes, nearly self-destruct, they're finally united around his Egyptian deathbed.

But, for better or worse, Man also chooses to live as a sociological, perhaps unnatural, entity-- a nation. In Vol. II, Exodus, Yaakov's model family begins to develop a unique national model, God's "kingdom of priests and holy nation" (19:6). They receive their charter, the Torah. Exodus ends with their regaining God's constant presence in their midst, just as it had been with His model individuals, the Patriarchs (Ramban). Vol. III, Leviticus, the detailed Teaching of the Priests, instructs Israel, in detail, just HOW first to be a kingdom of priests, then a holy nation, sanctifying every realm of life (Rav Dovid Hoffman).

Vol. IV, Numbers, Sefer Hapikudim, is also called Bamidbar, (In The Desert). It opens: "GOD DIRECTED MOSHE IN THE DESERT OF SINAI...". Abarbanel says that the desert trek was basic training in LIVING the teachings of Leviticus. Had Israel fully responded, they would have never been exiled. Numbers reflects Man's return to Eden, via the great desert of history, led by Israel (Hirsch). Despite Israel's constant crises, its end will be Messianic (E. Weisel). Numbers closes with preparations to enter Israel-- borders are defined, tribal leadership is structured, and the land's divided and alloted. All mitzvos have ultimate meaning only in Israel; in exile, they're sole function is rehearsal and remembrance (Ramban). The Land of Israel gives a man/woman special insight into Torah (Rama). Bamidbar's a ladder of transition from depths of degradation to heights of holiness, from Egypt to the Promised Land: GOD DIVIDED THE LIGHT FROM THE DARKNESS (Gen. 1:4)-- that's BAMIDBAR! (Midrash Raba); perhaps, just as one can't quickly emerge from darkness into bright light, so Israel's process of redemption takes a few generations. Older blind folks, suddenly cured, may suffer greatly from the need to make so many major adjustments.

Those so scarred by crude and vulgar gentiles in Eastern Europe and the Arab lands (as those liberated from Egyptian slavery) may be the best generation to establish Tzahal and the State of Israel and fight its wars for survival; but its expansion, intellectual and cultural sophistication, and its spiritual impact on a world at peace, perhaps beginning with the Arabs, may have to wait a generation or two for its realization-- by Israelis who grew up without a ghetto-slavery mentality; so Moshe, who grew up free in Pharoh's palace, could lead the Jews toward eternal spiritual freedom; so God-intoxicated and inspiring David, author of Psalms, wasn't qualified to build God's Temnple of Peace, as he waged holy war (tho itself a valid and good deed); only wise Solomon, his peaceful universalist son, could do so. Rav J. B. Soloveichik noted that pioneer societies, as the early State of Israel and the Wild West, could not strive for spiritual and intellectual grandeur, while occupied day and night with the struggle for sheer survival. Author Aharon Megged spoke out, at H. U. Hillel, against the "post-Zionist" concept and secular anti-religosity; he noted that university study was regarded, by his contemporaries, as an escape from the crucial task at hand-- to rebuild the Jewish Nation and Land; the Zionist mission still remains unfulfilled, at least until all Jews return to their land and heritage. Per R. Chanan (Genesis Raba 98:6), only the Messiah will complete this task.

Prof. Charles McClelland discussed Learned Professions and Jews in Modern Germany, and their Heritage for Israel today at H.U. He was introduced by infamous Prof. Moshe Zimmerman (see our B'chukosei study, "G."), who's still rebelling against his Orthodox upbringing. Widespread, well-paying learned professions, organized to advance their members' self-interest (e.g. bans against professional advertising), have been part and parcel of sophisticated modern life only since the 1800's; before that, education didn't pay and one entered a profession by apprenticeship. Jewish professional achievements, usually, and often necessarily, accompanied by assimilation, even baptism, were greatest in Germany, until 1933, when the Nazis expelled the Jews from their professions, the first step in the Holocaust-- their collegues often tried to defend them; tho less than 1% of the population, they supplied 15% of the lawyers, 50% in Berlin. Many fled to Israel, helping to build its universities and professional societies, as the needs of its developing society became more and more sophisticated.

I noted that major Israeli universities may indeed reflect the assimilationist trend of their German Jewish origins-- rather than bringing Judaism and Jewish Civilization to the rest of mankind, our Messianic Mission, H.U. & T.A.U. emulate the western secular academic community's beliefs, mores and values; most Israeli professors want to be acceptable members of universal academia, who don't make Jewish waves; this would conflict with their being too openly Jewish, e.g. denouncing homosexuality, advocating procreation and sexual morality, eating only kosher food and observing Shabbat, even while abroad at academic conferences-- Prof. Yaakov Bernays of the Conservative Breslau Seminary, Martha Freud's uncle, son of Chacham Bernays, Hirsch's Rebbe, proudly did so, while mourning the conversion of his brother Michael to Christianity. So H.U. & T.A.U., unlike B.G.U., oppose efforts to get overseas Jewish students more involved with their heritage, e.g. those of Jeff Seidel. I wanted to attend McClelland's seminars too, but Zimmerman forbade it-- most hardei yeshivot are far more warm and friendly to outsiders who wish to sit in on a class.

THE BOOK OF DELAY: Rav Z. Sorotzkin says that the Jews should have gone right into Israel from Egypt. God wouldn't delay destiny, just to add a 40 year punishment to Israel's 400 year exile. They accepted the Torah, the precondition to building their nation in Israel (Ps. 105), after 7 weeks; even the spies' sin shouldn't delay the NEW generation 40 years. God, however, postponed their entry for their own good. 3 major prerequisites for a Jewish State in Israel-- Torah, Kingship, and Priesthood-- could only develop properly gradually, IN THE DESERT (Tanchuma Beshalach).

Acquiring Torah required both separation from pagan contamination and intimate connection to God. The sinful Exodus generation would quickly turn Israel into a New Egypt, a giant Golden Calf Disco (cf. Eilat, Dizengoff, and Jerusalem's Talpiyot, Russian Compound, and Kikar Tziyon Pubs and Discos). Thus their children had to be retrained, imbued with God's Presence and miracles, in the isolated desert (the land of Israel, however, was to be a model of natural, not supernatural, living). There they'd eat Divine manna (Mechilta B'shalach 16) and drink from Miriam's well, under God's cloud, learning Torah from Moshe himself (see Rashi, Deut. 29:6). Only after 40 years in the ERP, Egyptianization Rehabilitation Program, could they enter Israel; powerful blessings and curses reinforce God's message. Thus future generations inherit a Torah FROM THE DESERT.

Yaakov's sons were exiled to Egypt when they mocked Yosef's Divine dreams of authority; they almost killed, finally sold, their regal brother in their jealous hatred. Israel had to rush out of Egypt, at the brink of irreversible paganization, before they were really all reunited; after their suffering, facing the perils of the desert, they united around Moshe and Aharon during Exodus-- "brotherhood's created amidst adversity" (Prov. 17-- cf. Tzahal). Yet they rebelled and split up when they confronted difficulties and delayed gratification. But Torah and living close together in one house-- under God's tent of clouds-- gradually united them: "A near neighbor is better than a far-off brother" (Proverbs 27:10). Yet Moshe and Aharon had continual problems with the old generation; the new one also rebelled; once they finished their course at D.T.U. (Desert Trek University-- wild undergrads sober up toward the end of the semester), however, they were absolutely loyal to God's Torah, His King (Joshua), and His Priest (Eliezer), during the early conquest of Israel. Thus Israel also acquires Kingship and Priesthood FROM THE DESERT: "WHO IS SHE COMING UP FROM THE DESERT, LIKE PILLARS OF SMOKE, PERFUMED WITH MYRRH & FRANKINCENSE..." (Song of Songs 3:6)

Infighting, bad kings, corrupt priesthood, and disdain for Torah were rife from the death of Joshua and the elders until the final destruction of the 2nd temple. Then God's folk was sent into the diaspora desert for another long rebuilding of faith and unity-- to create a new State of Israel, guided by Torah and expressing its teachings. We're now rebuilding Israel, with God's help. Bamidbar's our guide-- only a united Israel, aware of God and heeding Torah, as taught by his servant, Moshe, can inherit this land of true desire. Our 1900 year sojourn in a spiritual desert, sometimes also in a physical desert, has indeed developed us-- may we merit Torah in every Jewish home, the return of the high priest, bearing the urim and tumim, and the true king-- Meshiach ben Dovid. Then will all above and below exclaim: "WHO'S THIS COMING UP FROM THE DESERT, LEANING UPON HER BELOVED?" (Song of Songs 8:5, see Tanchuma Shmot 14).

Numbers is primarily a book of historical experience, life lessons. Other than rules of the trek itself, Divine commandments only occur when they naturally arise in the tale. Some laws of sacrifices, begun in Leviticus, are completed here, along with rules to protect the sanctity of the tent of meeting during its desert journey (Ramban). There are NO permanent commandments in our portion and only 54 of the 613, per Sefer Hachinuch, in all of Numbers. Rashi must explain the inclusion of Genesis in our Torah, basically a book of commandments; he has no similar qualms about Numbers. Jewish history is an integral part of one's Torah education-- tho it's become well developed by Rabbis Berel Wein, Hersh Goldwurm and Yosef Telushkin (tapes at TOP), haredi yeshivot and society only focus on the last few hundred years, and only on what happened within their own groups from Eastern Europe or the Arab lands; Nigel Wallis urges the inclusion of Jewish History in all Yeshiva curricula-- cf. Deut. 32:7: "Remember the days of old/ consider the years of many generations:/ ask your father and he'll recount it to you;/ your elders and they'll tell you".

Hertz (The Hallowing of History, in his Chumash) claims that Israel is the author of the idea of History, as only they conceived of the whole human scene on earth as a unity-- way before the Greeks, who also could not see a higher meaning in history, their confused interplay of blind natural forces (cf. Gibbons). Jews saw history as continuous revelation of Divine thought and purpose-- that which should be, must be and will be (cf. Schiller, a favorite of Chacham Bernays: "History is 1 long day of Judgment"). The Kingdom of God is the Messianic goal of history. "Man is made man by history. The Jew is what he is by the history of his fathers, and he would be losing his better self were he to lose hold of his past history (J. Jacobs-- cf. Meretz)". Dubnow predicted that Jewish post-Biblical history will have equally high impact on mankind. The Jewish historian is not to lament, denounce or idealize Jewish history-- his function is to understand it. He must be aware of the Jews' social, economic and politcal relations with the general population, to understand cross-fertilization of Jewish and non-Jewish ideas and influences, and the nature of Jewish CIVILIZATION, more than just Jewish doctrine and faith.

An interesting example was a Zalman Shazar Institute conference on The Jews and The Crusades. High level academic historians tried to sort out the truth of the crusades, somewhat buried beneath legend and dirges, all composed sometime after the event; the massacres were sporadic outbursts, as the Crusaders marched toward Israel, not anti-Jewish decrees; the devestated Rhine communities quickly recovered, but decreed that the Av Harachamim prayer be recited in memory of the victims, on the shabbat before Shavuot and that before Tisha B'Av; other Ashkenazi communities spread the recital to the rest of the year, commemorating all Jewish martyrs. Contemporaneous sources are curiously quiet about the massacres, but this may be due to shock at their sheer horror and magnitude; only recently have Holocaust survivors been able to openly and fully explore and dwell upon their experiences.

Shulamit Elitzur contrasted the image of Avraham and Yitzchak, crying all the way to the Akedeh, in Separdic poetry, with their joy at sacrificing Yitzchak to God in Ashkenazic-- the latter stresses Avraham's alleged blessing on the slaughter of his son, to which Yitzchak replied "Amen". This may have been a reinforcement for the Ashkenazic choice of death over baptism to Christianity, especially for their young children, who were likely to succomb. Prof. Hacker claims to find awe-full admiration for their sacrifice in the writings of Ramban and Rabbenu Yona, tho they don't specifically refer to the Crusades, and may oppose this martyrdom halachically. The Besht may have turned to the Kabbala, the Ari, and their liturgy in an effort to turn Ashkenazic Jewry toward warmer humanistic Sephardic roots and direction.

"The history of Israel is the greatest living proof of the working of Divine Providence in the affairs of the world... in the reflected light of Divine purpose, each Jew should lead his life with an added dignity" (J. Jacobs)

A model of a fully integrated Jewish historian is Rav Dr. Jose Faur, a dayan in the Syrian community, professor of Talmud, and author of "Golden Doves and Silver Dots", a contemporary analysis of Rabbinic thought. He was born in Argentina and now lives in Jerusalem; he frequently speaks at Jerusalem's sophisticated quietly pious, rabbi-free, Yeshurun Synagogue. His other major work, "In The Shadow of History", shows how Conversos and Marannos finally destroyed the Catholic Church, which had enslaved them, by initiating Europe's humanist social revolution and scientific skepticism. Faur's father, Abraham, believed that to be Jewish is to be modern and v.v. Faur praises Rav Eliyahu Benazomegh of Leghorn as a model leader, who's aware of, and comes to grips with, contemporary thought and experience, but always from a learned and uniquely Jewish standpoint; E.B. analyzed and disputed Darwin's theories only a few years after their publication (listen to TOP's tape of Faur's talk). Faur quotes Isaac Cardoso, Excelencias, p. 378, cf. p. 389: "The Jews are pious with God, with their own, with aliens, with the pilgrims, with the enemies (after defeating them), with the animals, with the birds, with the trees, and, in sum, the entire Law is a compendium of kindness and a declaration of love".

Severe punishment for sin is frequent in the post-Sinai setting of Numbers, unlike the pre-Sinai days of Exodus (Abarbanel)-- as God, we must go slow and easy with new returnees to Judaism! Num. 1:1-10:10 covers the 19 days of lingering about Sinai. The entire 38 years of desert wandering which follows gets little more space (10|:11-22:1); the last third of Numbers deals only with the 5 months before the conquest of Israel, in the plains of Moab (22:2-36:13).

The theme of Deuteronomy, book #5, is reflection and rededication, after the failures in Numbers-- a grand overview and review of both the Jewish past and Divine Revelation; it ends with poetic and prophetic forecasts of Israel's future, a prelude to transformation of all mankind and nature. Moshe's swan song is to renew their national sense of holy mission upon entering Israel-- The True Hope, Hatikva, is "Leyot am kadosh b'artzanu" -- to be a HOLY people in our land (see Exodus 19:6 and our bumper stickers). A FREE people, tho a necessary prerequisite, isn't our ultimate goal.

Both Jerusalem and Israel have grand development plans to make the city and country even more appealing to both foreign and local tourists, featuring everything from improved street lighting to thousands of additional hotel rooms and restaurants. Tourism Minister Uzi Baram, speaking at an ICC meeting of Jerusalem's business leaders, noted that Israeli tourism is directly linked to comfortable access to Jerusalem's sites and ample hotel room, as foreign tourism is expected to grow from 3 to 5 million vistors annually. Most people come to Israel primarily for Jerusalem. He stressed the need to provide a good time for secular visitors too, who have little interest in religious sites and cites. He suggested skirting religious objections to casinos in Israel, by placing them along the Dead Sea, which has few permanent residents-- Amos Mar Chayim of the Plaza interrupted him to note that he was, in effect, suggesting the resurrection of Sodom and Amora! Israelis would come too.

My impression was that Baram and most of those in the tourist industry are interested only in balance sheets, not in the moral and Judaic effects of their projects, e.g. the influence of Christian missionaries and amoral wandering Western youth upon Israel's Jewishness. This is self-destructive, for a cheap secular Israel will not attract those whom we most wish to attract. Why should Israelis forego their own Sabbath to guide non-Jews about the country? Why should our airport be open on Shabbat? A beautiful national shabbat, with tourists invited to traditional Israeli homes, may turn out to be both Israel's biggest tourist attraction, and that which will raise the level of Israel's tourists. Sick souls won't enjoy a holy land. The talmud claims that God did not create the wonderful hot springs and fruit of Tiberias in Jerusalem, so that no say he came to Jerusalem for them, rather than for its innate holiness (see Ezek. 48:35). Folks of the flesh are better off in Eilat. Many of Baram's touted "cultural" triumphs. e.g. the Israel Festival, besmirch Jerusalem with their profanity and cheap vulgarity, howbeit in the name of "culture".


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We ended Leviticus with the tithe of animals, every 10th one holy, to be eaten only in Jerusalem. The sheep were counted as they ran thru a narrow gate toward their bleating mothers, exhibiting an uncanny sense of returning to their source, their womb. So the Jew takes these animals to Jerusalem during the 3 pilgrimage festivals, as he returns to man's only ultimate source-- a rendezvous with God. God in turn counts His special dedicated sheep, Israel, in Bamidbar, The Book of Censuses (Hirsch).


Moshe's told to count non-Levite Israelight males from 20, for service in the TZAVA. Tzava can imply communal, military, or tabernacle service (Ramban). The Torah doesn't mention the draft age limit-- 60 (Sporno 1:45; its only derived from Lev. 27:7 in B.B. 121b), nor the exemption of invalids. It just stresses the positive, the holiness of Tzahal, to encourage the 20 year old Divine warrior; this isn't the moment to focus on draft exemptions-- indeed, many elderly Jewish gents will CHOOSE this noble role, tho exempt (Abarbanel; cf. Sarel). Retirement is often the biggest killer. The Torah names the tribal leaders and gives the exact tribal census, repeating the criteria 13 times-- why spend so much time on ancient facts? Rambam warns that all Torah is significant, be it lists or theophanies. For mystics, the driest can be the juiciest parts. Behind or within the soundshape of these enumerations may be glimmers of a hidden sense, besides the impact of structuring and ordering a liberated slave mass (G. Hartman, in CONGREGATION). God may indeed want us to remember the names of our great ancestors, who laid the foundations of Jewish life today; tho the names lack meaning, reciting them may enhances the historic mood-- that all great men and their adventures, tho a brief flicker in eternity, can have eternal impact; reciting lists of names of Shoa victims on Holocaust Memorial Day helps us feel their tragic loss more intensely.

Repetitive detail may form a dull backdrop, to highlight novel and all- encompassing passages; bland background accents a painting's focus; a symphony's many tranquil passages are a prelude to its major themes and grand finale. N. Leibowitz ztz"l raises this problem (Studies in Bamidbar 1, p. 12), but I find her response difficult. She notes the prohibition of relying on miracles in military matters; thus a census is necessary, which, in the process, shows the miraculous multiplication of the ex-slave nation. Perhaps Aviva Zorenberg will deal with dull detail in her new books, probing the depths of God's Torah-- carrying forward Leibowitz's great lifework, she strives to integrate God's Revelation with our own Divine Souls and that didactic slice of time, history and experience which He's alloted us; see The Dancer and the Dance, J.R. 5/18/95.

In Numbers 1:48-9, God tells Moshe not to count the Levites with Israel; Ariel Tzvi Fogelman notes that the census had just been completed here, indeed without them! S'forno suggests that the question never arose-- no Levite tribal leader had been appointed to administer the census; Moshe understood that they weren't to be involved in warfare and didn't assemble them for the counting; now God tells him that he was right-- their census is separate, for their special role, to lead Divine worship and study. They and their animals replace the firstborn and their animals, guarding the nation's spirit, not its body. Also, God may have specifically excluded Levites before the census, only mentioning their exclusion now, as he relates to their special functions (so Hirsch translates these verses).

Zealous Rav Yoel Schwartz of neo-Haredi Yeshivat Dvar Yerushalayim, prolific author of popular halachic works, applies the above principle of Levite non-combatants (or spiritual combatants) to Israel's Yeshiva students today in "The Ben Torah and His World" (published by the Yeshiva); he quotes great, but very insular, haredi talmud scholars, called "gdolim", who claimed (in 1948) that profane Israeli army life is unsuitable for the yeshiva student, who's only to study and pray for the state, and be an ethical model. I think that he's 100% wrong! (tho I admire his great contributions and those of Dvar-- I recommend Rav Horowitz and Rav Carmel's public lectures!)-- 1) most yeshiva students aren't Levites. 2) Haredim can now form separate holy army units, as the wonderful hesder yeshivot (they couldn't do so in '48). Perhaps the few hundred greatest scholars should be exempt, tho some familiarity and identification with Tzahal would be good for them too. 3) Many haredi yeshiva students don't learn and pray all day, but wander about aimlessly, eating and smoking, until someone finds them a shidduch and supports them for life. 4) Most such yeshiva students are morally far below the average religious Zionist Israeli, in that the latter at least prays for the State and soldiers who protect him-- gratitude is a basic ethical and religious principle. 5) Many haredim, as all who are raised in highly coercive and restrictive societies, are haredi only due to fear, habit and the inability to function in any other world.

The Torah next deals with the camp arrangement-- a square, with 3 tribes on each of the 4 sides; one of the 3 tribes leads each camp. All surround the Levites, who in turn surround the tabernacle with 4 camps-- 3 Levite subtribes and one for Moshe, Aharon, & Co.; thus beneficent Jewish power and influence radiate to the whole world from the tabernacle, center of focus for the Jewish people.

The census of the Levites, who replace the firstborn, totals 22,300, but only 22,000 are recorded (3:39)-- 300 Levites don't replace the firstborn, as they themselves are firstborn (Rashi, Bech. 5a); 5 shekel is given to redeem each of the excess 273 first born (22,273); the % of first born was very low among Levites. Perhaps many of their wives were widowed former Egyptians, with children, who joined the highest element of the Jews, the Levites. The Gershonites dealt with the curtains, ropes, and tools of the tabernacle, while the Merarites tended the wood, bases, and stakes and ropes of the outer courtyard. Only the highest, the Kehotite, role is spelled out this week; they moved the untouchable sacred furniture, but only after the cohanim covered it-- they may not see the uncovered ark. They're warned against assuming the still higher role of cohanim (per the Peter Principle, perhaps ignored by Korach).

A COLORFUL CARAVAN: The Torah stresses the exact color of the cloths covering the tabernacle's furniture, while it travelled with the Jews thru the desert. Blue (t'chalet) cloths covered the ark, table, menora, and golden altar. The showbreads and associated utensils stayed on the table, above the blue cloth, covered by red cloth (tolaat shani). The bronze altar of sacrifice was covered by cloth in another shade of red-- argaman. All had a cover of tachash skin, covering the colored cloth, except the altar-- its blue cloth was on top of the tachash. The tachash was known for its speed; it's use here symbolizes the unimpeded speed with which Torah must be spread, as the Jewish folk wanders thru the desert of history. As nature abhors a vacuum, so Jews will assimilate alien value systems if they're not exposed to Torah teaching in a palatable format. The blue color reminds one of heaven and symbolizes divinity-- it's to permeate and cover each major realm of life portrayed by the tabernacle furnishings. Its message is most blatant in the ark, whose blue cloth is always exposed.

The red cloth on the showbreads symbolizes, as blood, unrefined animal vitality in man, seeking his food-- cf. GIVE ME FROM THIS VERY RED FOOD, I'M STARVING! THAT IS WHY HE WAS CALLED EDOM (red, Gen. 25:30; war, miLCHAMa, is related to LECHEM, bread and survival; one's hands are to be uplifted and purified by ritual washing before the daily pursuit, and the partaking, of bread-- with no interruption between the pious symbolic ceremony and the act of eating). The other red, argaman, symbolizes these same animal life forces directed and trained to focus on God-- as do the animals sacrificed on the altar (Hirsch). All these colors appear in the tabernacle curtains and the high priest's clothing; tchalet and argaman also symbolize majesty (Esther 8:15). Arye Kaplan gives the many versions of the definition of these colors in The Living Torah, Ex. 25:4; in MEDITATION & KABALA, he discusses the kabalistic significance of colors. The poles were then adjusted for carrying the utensils; they were already inserted in the ark rings, as they never could be removed (Ex. 25:15, Hirsch; others claim that there were two sets of poles on the ark, one of which could be removed).


Is there also "a time to refrain from thinking"?-- cf. Ecc. 3:1f, per Pete Seeger.

1) NO TEENAGE DRAFTS: Rashi prohibits Israeli military draft below 20; David's draft of teenagers may have been the root cause of the plague which killed 70,000 soldiers (2 S. 24). Men aren't really strong before 20 (Ramban); Yehuda b. Tema states: AT 20, ONE IS TO PURSUE (the enemy; Avot 5). But this is difficult-- cf. our stalwart 18 year olds in Tzahal! Perhaps the issue is spiritual, not physical, strength-- Jewish soldiers must fight with both zeal and regret; war is a most sad necessity, not a joyous adventure (cf. bloodthirsty Syrian soldiers, eating live snakes). Before 20, most are too immature to achieve this fusion; indeed God doesn't punish one until 20-- therefore teenagers won't be so careful about sin, corrupting holy Tzahal (Klei Yakar). Perhaps soldiers should live a full life cycle-- wed and procreate-- before dangerous military service-- 18 is the ideal age for marriage (Avot above). Studying and working from 18 to 20 might also reveal one's talents and best role in the army. Perhaps Tzahal may train soldiers below 20, but not use them for fighting. "Religious" parties rarely raise such none-ritual issues, e.g. sale of Israeli armaments to bloodthirsty dictators, forbidden by Torah (A.Z. 15b f; see M.T. A.Z. 9:8).

2) COUNT ME ONCE AND COUNT ME TWICE AND COUNT ME ONCE AGAIN: This appears to be the 2nd census, the first commanded in Ex. 30:12; Israelight men were then counted, via half shekel donations to a post Yom Kippur tabernacle fund raising campaign. The tabernacle was completed and dedicated on 1 Nissan, a month before our 2nd census was ordered; the first census' half shekels were used for sockets for the boards (Ex. 38:26). God loves the Jewish people, both collectively and individually. Thus He counts them frequently, rejoicing in their existence and multiplication (Rashi, 1:1; cf. a miser's money and a 9 year old's baseball cards). We count people indirectly, e.g. via skekels, "to avoid the evil eye" per Rashi; Abarbanel disagrees-- there's no harm in counting people for good purposes, e.g. a minyan (see our Ki Sisa study). Many say that no half shekels were used here-- see Klei Yakar.

3) THE PARTS ARE MORE THAN THE WHOLE: The national census starts with families and tribes-- Jewish family identity must not be lost or undervalued vis-a-vis national identity (Hirsch); per Rashi, the Torah simply notes that tribal identity is paternal, not maternal. Jewish sexual morality, knowing one's father, counting Jews "by their fathers' houses", justifies their choice by God to receive His Torah at Sinai, just mentioned in Lev. 27:34 (Yalkut). The census is also a "head count" (1:2), stressing the retention of individuality; this is a curb on excessive national identity, seeing oneself only as an insignificant groupee (Hirsch). Some say that a half shekel symbolizes this concept-- it's a reminder that the WHOLE EARTH may be on the brink of judgement, 50% innocent, 50% guilty. My next act as an individual can tip the balance. The opposite message is also implied-- no one is complete, nor can anyone execute the Jewish mission alone. We're all simultaneously everything and nothing-- "What is Man that You remember him, and the son of man that You take him into account? Yet You have made him only slightly less than Divine Beings, and crowned him with honor and glory. You gave him dominion over the works of Your hand, you placed everything beneath his feet" (Psalms 8:5-7).

4) STATIC CENSUSES: Rashi (Ex. 30:15-16) asks how both censuses wind up exactly the same, 603,550, tho 1-6 months apart! Did no male turn 20 or die? He answers that people were not counted from their 20th birthday, but from the 20th natural year (measured from Creation), beginning with Tishre, during which they lived-- one born just before Tishre would be considered one year old on 1 Tishre; so trees' age is a year older on Tu B'Shvat, for their relevant laws. Thus no male could "become 20" until next Tishre! But Rashi ignores the other problem, someone turning 61 (the answer would be the same)-- perhaps he doesn't limit the draft and census to 60. No Jewish male died between the 2 censuses-- they were protected by the half shekel donation (Ex. 30:12)! Yet some were unclean via contact with the dead at Passover (Num. 9:6), between the 2 censuses!-- they may have carried Yosef's coffin or that of a deceased convert, not counted in the 1/2 Sh. tribal census, nor draftable. Rational Abarbanel, who believed in reincarnation and was grateful to the Greeks for discovering it, posits that Levites were also included in the first census, their number the same as additional males, aged 20-60, appearing in the 2nd census!!

Malbim asks why God needs a second census-- per Rashi, the count could not change! His answer: the first census, for war, was a simple national male body count. Moshe now recounts Israel AS A COMMUNITY (1:2), by tribes and families, with dignity and individuality, to form the holy encampment about the tabernacle (cf. the advanced Neo-lithic Age, when wandering Middle East mankind settled down to form communities-- see the Biblelands Museum's exhibits, including its fascinating depiction of 7 ancient religio-political centers; only Jerusalem survived). This configuration is to be a model of reborn mankind, a mosaic emerging from the unique contribution of each individual and group. Ramban differs with Rashi-- he claims that exact birthdays determined who was 20-60, not Tishre. This renders the exact same number in both censuses incredible-- see Malbim's in-depth analysis. Only this 2nd desert census of Numbers 1 was "by name"; the Exodus generation were the unique souls (names) who could take Israel without conflict (Sforno; cf. Daniel in the lions' den); but their kids had to fight normal wars-- they're are not counted "by name" at the plains of Moav, Num. 26. Per H. Adler, there was no 2nd census, only a recasting of the first one into tribes, families, etc. So Tanchuma (Ki Sisa 9) and Numbers Raba (1:10) indicate only one census, taking "the 2nd month" as Cheshvan, following the natural, rather than holiday, calendar, for this natural demographic realm.


SOME ???: 1) Only Aharon's sons are listed, not Moshe's! 2) Why repeat AND THESE ARE THE NAMES OF THE SONS OF AHARON? 3) Why mention here: a) that Aharon or Nadav is firstborn, b) that Nadav & Avihu died childless, and c) that Elazer & Itamar served as priests during their father's lifetime? 4) Why link their descendants with the day of God's address on Mt. Sinai? 5) Why is this passage in-between the general and Levitical censuses? Let's contact great sages of the ages, for their responses to these issues-- but first pause for a few moments and make up your own minyan, a list of the greatest 10 Jews since 1700. Compare your list with your friends'. On to the sages--

RASHI, 1040-1105, cultivated both physical and spiritual vineyards. Others added to his works, leading to many varied manuscripts. A great teacher of the simple meaning of Bible and Talmud, he cites San. 19b-- Aharon's children are also considered Moshe's, as Uncle Moshe taught them Torah, "fathering" their spirits. Jewish paternity (& resultant Decalogue-based gratitude and awe) extends beyond biological relationships. This answers ??#1 and #3a-- Aharon, #1 son, didn't resent Moshe's educating his children; he loved, and deferred to, his little brother. Rashi adds that Moshe's "educational paternity" began when he received the Torah on Sinai, answering ?#4. The equation of teaching with physical paternity introduces the Levites-- they're counted to serve in God's Teaching Corps, rather than the physical army, answering ?#5.

RAMBAN, 1194-1270, master of Torah and kabbala, was a doctor. He rebuilt Jewish Jerusalem in 1267, after exile from Spain, for crushing Christianity in 1263's public debate (see Top's video-- "The Disputation" and read Judaism On Trial, both by Chaim Maccoby, $35 each from TOP). Ramban differs with Rashi's last point; he says "the day of Mt. Sinai", when Aharon & Sons became cohanim, is contrasted with the appointment and numbering of Levites & Israelites, delayed until they reached "The Desert of Sinai".

OHR HACHAYIM, R. Chayim Attar Jr. originally of Sale, on the Atlantic, in Western Morocco, died at 47 (1696-1743); he views Moshe as a PHYSICAL parent of Aharon's 2 surviving kids!-- Moshe later discloses that God was so angry with Aharon, who aided and abeted the Golden Calf, that He would have destroyed him and his 4 children. Moshe's prayers and proteksia at Mt. Sinai saved, rebirthed, 2 of them (Deut. 9:20); this answers ?? #1 & #4. All 4 are called Aharon's sons (3:2), then just the 2 survivors, who Moshe saved (3:3-4). This answers ?? #2 & #3b-- Nadav & Avihu had no chilren, whom Uncle Moshe might have also saved. Ohr Hachayim adds that the double mention of "the priests" is to exclude Levites, not just Israelites, from priestly functions, anticipating Levite Korach's rebellion. Younger brother Moshe's greater spiritual power and prayer saves his firstborn brother-- cf. Esau-Yakov and Cain-Abel.

Attar, a charismatic saintly charitable businessman, the formerly rich namesake of his saintly grandfather and teacher, drew THOUSANDS to his lectures in Italy; he was rabbi of Livorno for about 3 years, enroute to Israel, after suffering famine, persecution and huge losses in Morocco, and sojourning in Algeria. He preached mass aliya to the pure land, finding many followers and supporters. Yet only about 30 disciples (of 150) accompanied his family to Israel! The Baal Shem Tov allegedly hoped to learn from Attar, a major influence on Chasidism, in Israel. Attar first went to Acre, due to plagues in Jerusalem and Jaffa; he attributed a pupil's death to living there, beyond the borders of Holy Israel, and moved to Pekiin. He spent his last year in Jerusalem; one of his childless wives donned tallit and tefillin and spent the entire day in prayer (probably for children-- Ruth Fogelman; I don't know her age). Ohr Hachayim St. is around the corner from TOP (his synagogue is above the Old Yeshuv Court Museum, at #6; pleasant Shabbat services at 8:15 AM are often followed by a really high level talk by Rav Mattis Weinberg). As Yosef Karo, Attar attributed Divine Guidance to his insights. This may explain why he didn't cite (if he knew of him)--

EFRAYIM SHLOMO LUNTSHITS (1550-1619), the K'lay Yakar, who gave the same interpretation long before Attar; he said that God's anger would have killed only Aharon's 4 children, not Aharon himself; even this might have been postponed for a few generations, IF Nadav & Avihu themselves had children, out of consideration for Aharon! (thereby answering ?? #2 & #3b). Luntshits criticizes and rejects San. 19b, cited by Rashi above; were it correct, ALL Jews, Moshe's pupils, should also be listed as his descendants! We could so criticize Luntshits' own view-- Moshe also prayed for and saved ALL the Jews! He specially taught Aharon & Sons too! Attar, Luntshits, Ibn Ezra, etc. did not give talmudic biblical interpretation the same status as talmudic law. We preserve our freedom and creativity in the realm of thought, while disciplining ourselves in the area of authoritative halacha.

Cf. Rambam: So Avraham b. Maimon, following his father, forbids the acceptance of rabbinic authority in secular, e.g. scientific and philosophical, realms (in his Introduction to the Agada, printed as a preface to Ein Yaakov, Vol. I). In Maimonides on the "Decline of the Generations" and the Nature of Rabbinic Authority (Suny), Menachem Kellner argues that the Rambam also rejected the innate intellectual and religious superiority of prior generations, even of the rabbis of the talmud. The inherent equality of generations is not that of formal halachic authority, based on status and position, but of ability, of essential human characteristics; this opposes the notion of "the decline of the generations", affirmed by Rav Berel Wein, according to which each succeeding generation, or each succeeding epoch, is in some significant and religiously relevant sense inferior, e.g. in its intellectual and spiritual caliber, to preceding generations or epochs (Shabat 112b, Eruvin 53a, Igeret Rav Sherira Gaon, B.B. 12a).); this is a possible interpretation of many talmudic statements, some of which even imply that later generations, closer to the Messiah, tho further from Sinai, are on a higher level than their predecessors; recent studies have shown an unexplainable rise in IQ in the last few generations. (see Prof. Fox on Rambam in our B'chukos study).

Thus, per Rambam's own criteria, bright and learned folks today may critique him, as did Orthodox scientist Andrew Sanders in Dear Maimonides; likewise, when Rambam writes that even slight illness diminishes one's ability to think clearly (M. T. Daot), we must note his own early emotional deprivation, his year long depression at his brother's death, and his constant illness in his later years.

Luntshits, a great preacher in prosperous Poland, saw adoration of wealth replacing that of Torah, kindness, and piety (cf. Lawrence, L.I., yuppie T.A.). Admiring the wealthy and powerful could lead to assimilation-- non-Jewish societies were much richer, bigger, and more powerful! (cf. OUR CROWD). Christians indeed claimed that their power and success showed that God had abandoned His Chosen Folk and their eternal mission-- ESL responded that the worst individuals are often the most wealthy and powerful! Societies too! He criticized both the rich, who wouldn't help the poor, and those poor who could work, but preferred to beg from the rich (cf. The Wall). In Amudei Shesh, Luntshits writes: "In my later years, I preached in Lublin, especially during the Great Fairs... I was quite open there..., pointing out the lacks of the rabbis as well as the laymen, not halted by thoughts of advantage or fear. This boldness... created for me many enemies, who slandered me and tormented me (cf. Jerusalem today and these sheets!). Of course, I could have avoided all this... had I been willing to speak in a more circumspect manner, or if I were more worried over what people would think of me; however, I long ago resolved to put God's honor above my own."

RAMAH (1525 or 1530-1572), humble and friendly Moshe Isserles, led Ashkenazic Jewry; he saw wealth as an expression of God's favor, poverty a sign that one is undeserving, or would be corrupted by wealth (cf. Calvin). The son of a very rich talmudist & businessman, he supported a private Yeshiva (as did Attar). He tried to reconcile philosophy and kabbala, favoring the former. He mastered history and astronomy, but not grammar! Unlike Rashby, he combined Torah and Worldly Activity; perhaps we should celebrate his yahrtzeit on Lag B'Omer.

Karo's Sephardic Shulchan Aruch was strongly criticized by Chayim b. Betzalel, Maharal's brother, and others; they wished to keep Jewish options open, rather than closing the Talmud with fixed Codes; Karo's leniency, where financial loss was involved, and his raising of most custom to law, were objects of dispute. Ramah sided with Karo, adding Ashkenazic customs and amplification to his Code-- e.g. he ruled, as Rosh, unlike Karo, that Ashkenazic Jews should don tefillin on Hol Hamoed, tho Zohar's condemns this as a mortal sin-- another proof that at least part of the Zohar didn't exist long before Moshe De Leon wrote it down in 1278. Rav Moshe Feinstein says that even Ashkenazic Jews shouldn't don tefillin in Israel on Hol Hamoed. Shlomo Mallin, translator of the Maharal, disagrees.

Rav Dr. Chayim Soloveichik notes that Ashkenazic Jewry, e.g. Ramah, tended to view its customs as having Divine sanction (cf. Bnei Brak Jerusalem today). Sephardic leaders, however, critically examined their own practices, with an open view to changing them. T.A.U. Prof. of Linguistics, Paul Wexler, in The Non-Jewish Origins of the Sephardic Jews (SUNY), contends that most Sephardim are the descendants of converts, which may make them more open to critical self-examination and change. Wexler's premise is that Jewish languages, such as Judeo-Arabic, Ladino and Yiddish, offer valuable clues to ethnic origins. He claims that Sephardic Jewry did not have its genesis in Spain, but in North Africa, and that Sephardic Jews were not descended from the ancient Judeans (themselves, starting with Avraham, all converts), but were primarily the posterity of Berber proselytes. He detects the remnants of this North African Berber and Arab substrate in the culture and language of the Sephardic Jews. He marshals a dazzling array of history, literary, ethnographic, and-- most important-- linguistic data in support of his highly original hypotheses (from Prof. Norman Stillman's approbation). Chayim appreciates learning how to live Torah from one's community, rather than from books; each observant community, nevertheless, should respect the other's practices, eating in their houses, and marrying their daughters. In "Religious Law & Change-- The Medieval Ashkenazic Example", he examines tensions between Law and Life-- could a rabbi rule that those who killed their children during the Crusades, to avoid Christian baptism, were murderers?-- cf. Ramban and Rabbenu Yona supra.

S. R. Hirsch (6.20.1808-12.31.88, Sivan 24, 5568-Teves 27, 5649) masterfully blended Torah with secular study and modern life, as did his rebbe, Chacham Tzvi Bernays, to reform Reform German Jewry; he attended public schools and, as Rav Y. Kapach, tried to rid Judaism of medieval superstition; yet, unlike Kapach, Hirsch respected the Zohar; he represented Jews in the Bohemian parliament (see Tradition In An Age of Change-- Rosenblum; a portrait of Hirsch as a young Rabbi is $5 from TOP). He sees the Torah's omission of Moshe's descendants as his praise-- he gave no prominent position to his unworthy children! So, per Midrash Rabah: "Moshe's descendants are given for his honor". To this day, Hirsch's community pays for rabbinic kashrut supervision, rather than the "rabbi" being paid by those he's supposed to direct, the perverse practice of the Jerusalem Rabbinate (thus they also avoid paying employers' taxes).

S'FORNO (1470-1550) was an Italian Torah scholar and Doctor, who also taught universal aspects of Torah to great non-Jewish humanists (Artscrolls published his commentary in English). He claims that Aharon's sons are listed twice as their merit was not JUST as Aharon's sons, but they also developed themselves as worthy Cohanim (cf. children of rebbes & roshei yeshiva).

ABARBANEL (1437-1508), Torah and secular scholar, humanist, financeer, and politician, forecast Meshiach NOW in 1503. He fought Christian Biblical distortions, while citing their reasonable comments (cf. Rav E. Benamozegh)-- in his reply to ?#6 on 1 K. 8, a sweeping review of Temple and Tabernacle symbolism, he prefers their explanations to those of his predecessors, e.g. Radak and Rambam, but goes on to give the best-- his own! So Shlock Rock (Bar-bar-barbanel) sings his praises (I often join in)-- he's frequently the clearest expositor of Torah, after Zohar and others leave us in the dark. He wrote amidst constant turmoil. His Biblical proof that your teacher's your father (Rashi above) is Elisha's cry at Eliyahu's death: "MY FATHER, MY FATHER..."-- II K 20:12.

He notes the very low 22M Levite population, tho they were counted from infancy, not 20; Moshe lacks distinguished descendants and Aharon's 2 top sons, their potential successors, die-- yet the other tribes all flourished, with many distinguished descendants; this answers ?#5. Levi, never enslaved, lacked God's special blessing to the oppressed Israelites-- but little Levites, e.g. Moshe, were also drowned (YF)! Perhaps a day of drowning all babies, not just Jews, was proclaimed-- Klei Yakar, 3:39.

Aharon's maverick children may have been influenced by his aiding and abetting the Mt. Sinai Golden Calf Temple, tho he only wanted to buy time thereby. Those tolerant of evil run the risk that their own children and followers may adopt it; some things must be taboo, e.g. married women's friendships with other males; homosexuality is perversion, not a respectable "alternative life style". "Gay pride has its limits-- You're liberal. You strongly favor gay rights. You also have young children. Are you indifferent to their ultimate sexual orientation, or do you wish them to grow up heterosexual, to marry and have children and a happy family life? If liberals can influence and educate children not to hate, can't they also teach them how to love? Homosexuals may demand freedom and civil rights, but not public legitimation of a lifestyle most of us would never in good conscience wish upon our children" (Charles Krauthammer). Unfair, venomous, or distorted criticism of evil, however, may produce the opposite effect-- cf. Israeli and U.S. Orthodox responses to non-traditional Judaism. Some fire-and-brimstone folks may just turn others off thereby; others may even lose their own pupils and kids (hear TOP's David Luchins tape on Homosexuality and Judaism, an Aish Hatorah lecture; see Rav E. Finkelman's article on homosexuality in the Journel of Rabbis In Academia).

Perhaps most Egyptian Levites died! Evil Jews who WOULD NOT LEAVE EGYPT died in the plague of darkness (Rashi; even if you're evil, Israel can help-- if you try!)-- those who had it good wouldn't leave (Ex. Raba); these were the Levites, perhaps Pharoh's private army (cf. Boro Park). Those few who did leave, despite their position, now become Israel's leaders, tho Yaakov disparaged Levi. Moshe and Aharon fathered no more descendants (Moshe ceased sexual life) after being given prophecy on "the day at Sinai". Abarbanel rejects Ramban's claim that only cohanim, not Leviim, were annointed that day-- the 3 priests, Aharon & Sons, needed immediate Levite help. Perhaps Moshe's children aren't mentioned, as they were THEN still young & unimportant. Perhaps Aharon's sons, who continue his priesthood, are Moshe's professional "descendants" (he was the first high priest).

THE ZOHAR (118) connects our portion to Jerusalem, the source of all joy-- REJOICE WITH JERUSALEM AND BE GLAD IN HER, ALL YOU WHO LOVE HER (Is. 66:10). Per Rav Goren, one must love, honor and rejoice with Jerusalem, celebrate Jerusalem Day; E. Whartman recalls Goren running faster than any man he ever saw when he heard the Wall was being liberated. One relates to God with awe abroad, but with joy even on the way to Israel, in the desert (cf. El Al flights). The prophet adds: THEY'LL BRING YOUR BRETHREN OUT OF ALL THE NATIONS... TO MY HOLY MOUNTAIN, JERUSALEM (20). Bamidbar is read close to Jerusalem Day, celebrating the rebirth of Greater Israel, the Wall, the Old City and the Cave of Machpela.


Hosea forecasts the Messianic Era-- Jewish survivors will bring the world back to God and themselves from Israel. Other cultures consider Jews an anachronism, no longer God's people; they'll suddenly realize that they're "children of the Living God"-- tho "God is dead" elsewhere, He's alive and well in Jerusalem! (cf. Toynbee). The reunited Jews will then regret deserting Torah for alien cultures (e.g. soccer and discos, cheap movies and vulgar "art" festivals). The Jews' "mother", The Community of Israel, has been unfaithful to their father, God; she was severely punished via barbarians, e.g. Crusaders and Nazis. God, nonetheless, won't completely abandon her; she'll return with ardor, calling Him "my mate", not just "my master"* . Then all nature will again be perfect, with no more war. This union is eternal (vs. the view of Christianity & Islam): AND I'LL BETROTH YOU UNTO ME FOREVER... WITH JUSTICE, LAWS OF JUSTICE, LOVINGKINDNESS AND PITY AND... WITH FAITH (True religion emerges from social justice and truth, but its fulfillment is knowledge of God-- Guide III:54) AND YOU'LL REALLY KNOW GOD (19-20). Thus the desert ordeal, here and in all ages, is a trek toward a wonderful redemptive mission of Israel in Israel. The Jews learn to build a holy civilization from a barren desert (Rav J. Soloveichik). "I REMEMBER FOR YOU THE KINDNESS OF YOUR YOUTH, THE LOVE OF YOUR BETROTHAL-- GOING AFTER ME IN THE DESERT, IN A BARREN LAND" (Jer. 2:1).

*So Herbert Danziger, in Return to Tradition, describes the universal change from religions of coercion and communal pressure, to those of choice, in the modern era. Orthodoxy, in its old repressive mode, lost most of its followers with emancipation; but the tides are turning, so that 1 person entered Orthodoxy for every 5 who left by 1989; as Orthodoxy restructures itself as a religion of choice, its traditional stalwarts will themselves be revitalized and imbued with sincere conviction, leading to an eventual return of the educated Jewish masses to their truly traditional faith-- all of their own free-will; Rav J. Soloveichik, as Sharansky, notes that religious coercion today is simply counter-productive.


I apologize to those readers to whose most welcome ?? and comments I have not replied, tho I read them all; I have no secretary and simply do not have the time or energy to do so, and am not yet fully computer literate (tho working on it). Meanwhile, from time to time, I'll select some communications of general interest and briefly discuss them. Here's three!

1) .il, a frequent enthusiastic correspondent, questions my dating of the destruction of the First Temple at 586-7 BCE, the date accepted by most academic historians; true, 586 also suggests pleasant associations with our Super Pentium Computer, donated by Soda Stream-- but the talmudic date is Av 9, 3338, 423 BCE, based on Seder Olam Raba and other sources. Yannei is concerned, lest I lose my readers at Aish HaTorah.

Tho I don't have much interest in technical matters, which don't affect anything we do or feel, e.g. dates, the age of the universe, the number of letters in a parsha, the average length of its verses, etc., I decided to do a bit of research anyway, to see how each side reached its conclusions and who's right in their 163-4 year difference. History is indeed a secular discipline, not part of halachic tradition; thus the rabbis need not be accepted, if secular experts are more convincing-- the length of the Persian empire, determining the dates of Biblical events, isn't a halachic issue (see Avraham ben Maimon supra). As with most interesting ?? which I encounter (e.g. why the Torah does not explictly prohibit sexual relations between fathers and daughters, a few weeks ago in Acharei Mos-K'doshim), I found very few people who were even aware of the problem-- including reasonably learned folks. Of those with whom I spoke, only Rav Menachem Slae was familiar with the issue; he referred me to Jerusalem's friendly authority on the subject, Dr. Chayim Chafetz, Bayit V'gan 57, (02) 642-0679. The issue turned out to be beyond my remaining time and space this week; I'll deal with it, The Good Lord willing, soon.

2) Dr. Maurice Roumani of BGU (, an expert on Jews in the Arab world, of Libyan extraction, suggests that I've been here long enough to use sephardic pronunciation, to change my "s"'s to "t"'s (something like beating one's swords into plowshares), unless I might lose my ashkenazic readers in the process! I often, not always, use ashkenazic hebrew (ivris) simply out of habit, and due to pride in my own ancestry; ashkenazic Hebrew is clearer because of the distinctions between sov and tov and kamatz and patach. Prof. Katsh of NYU opined that it was more authentic than sefardic Hebrew. Today's Israeli hebrew is indeed the product of Ashkenazic, not Sephardic, Hebrew culture-- its style and tone were set by East European Hebrew writers, mostly of the haskala or hassidic schools, and its vocabulary was determined by ashkenazic Eliezer Ben Yehuda & Co.-- the revival of spoken Hebrew itself was due to his unlimited faith and determination; he raised his own children to speak only Hebrew, depsite the warnings of those about him (his aged daughter, Dalla, resides in the Plaza hotel). See the many fine articles in "Hebrew In Ashkenaz-- A Language in Exile", edited by Lewis Glinert (Oxford, $40 from TOP). Were Sephardim in control of the early Zionist Movement, Israel's lingua franca would probably have been Arabic. In any event, Maurice's reaction to Wexler's thesis, supra, may make him forget this issue!

3) Jordan Lee Wagner ( is developing The Learner's Minyan a web site for every Jewish neophyte, including a siddur:

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