Parashat Bemidbar
May 21 – 27, 2017 • 2 Sivan 5777
Annual (Numbers 1:1-4:20): Etz Hayim p. 769-785; Hertz p. 568-580
Triennial (Numbers 1:1-54): Etz Hayim p. 769-774; Hertz p. 568-572
Haftarah (Hosea 2:1-22): Etz Hayim p. 786-790; Hertz p. 581-585


Jewish Geography by the Numbers
Dr. Stephen Hazan Arnoff is the Executive Director of the Fuchsberg Jerusalem Center.

Numbers (Sefer Bemidbar) plays a game familiar to anyone who knows Jews. What is the first thing a Jew does when meeting another Jew? We play Jewish geography. Where are you from? we ask. Do you know so and so?

Some things never change.

The Hebrew Bible is about a lot of things—you could say it’s about everything—but one thing that it cares about a great deal is setting up the trusted network of what eventually comes to be known as the Jewish people.

Genesis introduces the families, Exodus sees them enter their purpose as a nation, Leviticus lays out the core of cultic law, and Numbers brings all of these stories back to Jewish geography. It says, “Take a census of the whole Israelite community by the clans of its ancestral houses…” (Num 1:2). Map who knows who and where you are from. Look around, Numbers says. Take stock of this people. It is the web in which all of your history is embedded.

Trusted networks are the power of our age, too. We live in a world where harnessing the power of networks drives our knowledge and economy. Uber, Facebook, Airbnb, Google, YouTube—you know the list—these are all trusted networks leveraged both for profit and the greater good. (We also know, of course, that a network can be turned against itself by people of malice, exposing the most intimate information of its members).

As far as we think technology may have taken us and as new and unpredictable as our engagement with the world seems to have become, our essential infrastructure of communication in every interest, profession, or passion depends upon the same curation of relationships and need which describes the Jewish people in the beginning of the Book of Numbers.

This trusted network and its ancestors are the caretakers of Jewish law—open sourced for generations of debate and review. Every layer of intimate knowledge lives in this network: who is a Jew, what we eat, how we couple and uncouple, laws of property, how to take care of the poor, and on and on.

As always, in Numbers, it’s all about who you know. But just like our networks of today, it’s also about knowing that what we know depends on all of us.

A Vort for Parashat Bemidbar
Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, CY Faculty

While members of the tribes are counted from age 20, when fit for military duty, the Levites, who were commanded “to safeguard the Tabernacle” (1:53) are counted “from one month” (3:15).  The Avnei Ezel (attributed to Alexander Zusia Friedman, author of Mayana shel Torah/Wellspring of Torah, 1897 – 1943, Poland, killed by Nazis) explains that the essence of safeguarding of the Ark was not physical but spiritual.  And no one was of greater purity and higher spirituality than the infants.  He goes on to say that the Jewish people must be led by people who have more than political strength; they must have attributes of holiness and spiritual leadership.

Table Talk
Vered Hollander-Goldfarb, CY Faculty

We are starting the fourth book of the Torah, Bamidbar. In this Parasha the focus is on the census taken a year after leaving Egypt, in preparation to entering the Land of Israel. This week we will celebrate Shavuot, during which the book of Ruth is read, hence some question on it.

1) This book opens with a census counting all men who could serve in the army.  When is it done (1:1)?  How long have they been out of Egypt by now?

2) Who is in charge of the census (1:2-3)?  In addition to these people, there will be a representative of each tribe.  What is the position of that person within his tribe (1:4)?  What do you think the role of this person is in the census?

3) Following the census, we are told about the order by which the tribes camped (2:1-31). In what form did they camp?   What was at the center of this structure? Why do you think that this form what chosen for the camp?

2 questions on the book of Ruth:

4) Ruth, a Moabite woman who comes to Bethlehem in Judah with her once-wealthy mother in law following the death of her husband, finds herself in dire poverty. She goes to the field to collect the ‘left-overs’ (Ruth 2:2-3). Before going she asks her mother in law for permission.  Why do you think that she does this?

5) When Boaz, the owner of the field in which Ruth is gathering, arrives he notices a new woman in the field (2:4-7).  What does this teach us about the poor people gathering in fields?  He asks the worker in charge who she is.  How does the worker respond?  In your opinion, is he is positive or negative in his description?