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The Book of Numbers is so called because it deals principally with the census of the Jewish nation and their organization around the Tabernacle according to their tribes. The entire census—including accounts of both the number of men in each tribe and an account of the total number of men in the entire nation—first appears in chapter 1. The order of encampment around the Tabernacle appears in chapter 2, medications “Each individual unto his flag with the banner of their patriarchal house shall the Children of Israel encamp, purchase facing and surrounding the Tent of Meeting shall they camp.” Surprisingly, shop with the order of encampment, the Torah once more repeats the census numbers appearing in chapter 1. This second enumeration seems redundant. Why did the Torah first relate the census independently of the camp structure (in chapter 1) and then repeat it a second time when laying out the structure of the camps surrounding the Tabernacle (in chapter 2)?

General Census and Inclusive Structure

One idea that can be gleaned from this apparent redundancy is that number and strcuture (or quantity and form) are independently important.

The census—counting the number of Jews—expresses the importance of every single Jew and God’s fondness for each and every one of us. As Rashi states, “Because of His fondness for them, He [God] counts them at every opportunity.” Every Jew is God’s favorite and every Jewish soul is an entire world.

The census is divided by tribes and each individual is related to his own patriarchal house, “And they declared their pedigrees according to their families according to their fathers’ houses” (Numbers 1:18) and as Rashi explains, “Each one of them brought their family trees and their birth certificates to prove their relationship to their tribes.”

Once the quantity of Jewish souls is known, once each person has been attended to as an individual, the people, as a nation of 12 tribes, are treated as a whole with a particular structure that joins them together. Concentrating on them as a nation, the twelve tribes are ordered and organized into four camps in a particular manner around the Tabernacle, with one camp (of 3 tribes) lying in each direction. Each tribe has its own flag in a specific color with a particular banner, and the full structure reveals the manifold relationship between them all. The number of each tribe is mentioned once more, while describing the structure, but this time it is an intrinsic part of a complete tapestry.

Given this differentiation between quantity and form, the census can be compared to the “Act of Creation” – facilitating the essential existence of each and every person in the Jewish nation, each one and his birthright. In contrast, the form, the camp structure around the Tabernacle can be compared to “the Act of the Chariot” (which literally translates as, “The act of construction”), revealing the complexity of the myriad relationships between the individuals and between their tribes.

Counting letters and drawing figurate numbers

This two stage process—from quantity to form—is reflected in our method of contemplating the Torah. The earliest Torah scholars were called ??????, usually translated as “scribes,” but also meaning, “counters.” They were described in this manner because they counted the letters of the Torah. Today, we too first carefully count the letters in a given verse or section of the Torah. The act of careful counting gives us a chance to treat each letter as an individual point of revelation, like a precious stone (in fact, the letters of the Torah are designated as “stones” in Sefer Yetzirah).

Once we know the number of letters, we continue our study by contemplating what particular form, what particular figure, that particular number of letters can be arranged in. The forms we consider are known as “figurate numbers.” These geometric figures with symmetry that have a particular number of components. We then arrange the letters of the text we are studying into the particular figurate number found.

For example, when we count them, we find that the Torah’s first verse (??????????? ?????? ????????? ??? ??????????? ????? ???????) has 28 letters. The form that suits 28 letters is that of a triangle, particularly what is called the triangle of 7. We then proceed to arrange the 28 letters of the Torah’s first verse into the structure of the triangle of 7. Once the letters have been ordered in this form, the structure itself can be studied, thereby revealing many new insights into the meaning of the verse.

The Gift of the Camp at Mt. Sinai

The Torah portion of Bamidbar is read on a Shabbat that is close to the festival of Shavu’ot, when we celebrate God’s giving us the Torah. Indeed, the sages associate the organization of the Jewish camp in the wilderness to the revelation atMt.Sinai, which took place almost a year beforehand,

When God revealed Himself at Mt.Sinai, 22,000 angels descended with Him…. The angels were ordered under different flags…. When the Jewish people saw the angels ordered under their different flags, they began to desire flags for themselves, saying, “We wish we could have flags like them.” God said to them, ‘Since you desire to be under flags, I swear that I will fulfill your wish… then God informed the Jewish nation and told Moses, “Go and make them flags as they desire” (Bamidbar Rabbah).

God’s giving us the Torah generated the correct structure within the nation. While at Mt. Sinai the mountain was in the center and all the nation was around it, once the Tabernacle was constructed and the Divine Presence that was revealed at Mt. Sinai was drawn into it, the whole camp organized itself around the Tabernacle, “Each individual unto his flag…, facing and surrounding the Tent of Meeting shall they camp.” Mt.Sinaiand the Tabernacle were the two central points around which the camp was organized.

From Sons to Builders

There is a well known phrase by the sages that,

Torah scholars increase peace in the world, as the verse states, “All your children shall be God’s students, and abundant shall be your children’s peace.” The sages say: Do not read this as, “banayich” – your children, rather read it as “bonayich” – your builders.

AtMt.Sinaievery Jew became “God’s student,” a Torah scholar who learns Torah from God’s own mouth; they therefore also became builders. From this perspective, it now became fitting that they should be assembled together in an orderly structure like the angels and perhaps even more so than angels, since Jewish souls have a higher root even than angels.

At the exodus fromEgypt, our status as God’s children became manifest, and God called us, “My firstborn son,Israel.” As God’s beloved children, He counts us at every opportunity and each one of us is like an only son. But from the moment that God gave us the Torah, we are no longer simply children, having become a nation of Torah scholars, we are now also builders who, in addition to being beloved children, each of whom is singled out, we are also given the privilege of a specially ordered structure. The central point of that structure is the Tabernacle, which is the manifestation of Divine revelation and also of the Torah (the two tablets of the covenant were kept in the Holy Ark of the Tabernacle) and around it the Jewish nation was ordered according to their flags and camps.

Another version of the abovementioned saying regarding the angels seen during the giving of the Torah appears as an interpretation of the verse in Song of Songs, “He brought me to the winery and his flag upon me was love”

Rabbi Yehoshuah of Sachnin said in the name of Rabbi Levi, “The nation of Israel said: God brought me to a large wine cellar, which is Sinai, where I saw the angel Michael and his flag and the angel Gabriel and his flag and my eyes saw the ceremonies of above and I loved them. At that moment, God said to Moses, ‘Since My children desire to camp under flags, they shall camp under flags.’ This is what it means when it says, ‘Each individual unto his flag with the banner….’” (Shir Hashirim Rabbah).

Referring to this verse, the Zohar states, “Rabbi Elazar began, ‘Rejoice withJerusalemand exult in her all those who love her, etc.’ Since joy is only available at times when the Jewish nation is in theHoly land.” This interpretation of the verse in the Torah portion of Bamidbar indicates that the camp ofIsraelin the wilderness, the rectified structure of the Jewish nation “around the Tent of Meeting,” had the sanctity of theLandofIsrael,Jerusalemand theHolyTemple, all of which are places of joy.

Consequently we can learn from this that today, in the Land of Israel, in order to merit the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Holy Temple, we must reconstruct the camps of the wilderness. This can be achieved by recreating proper order amongst Jews, including ceremonies and flags that express our uniqueness as God’s nation and our desire to be similar to the Divine Chariot , thereby meriting the return of the Divine Presence amongst us, “as comely asJerusalem, as awesome as the bannered regions.”

from Rabbi Ginsburgh’s class, Sivan 1, 5772

In this week’s Torah portion we read how Balak, online King of Moab, no rx hired Balaam, viagra an expert sorcerer, to curse the Jewish people, in an attempt to divestMoabof the threat that he felt they imposed upon them. On three attempts Balaam had Balak sacrifice seven oxen and seven rams, a total of 42 sacrifices, but every time, instead of Balaam receiving a prophecy that would curse the Jewish people, the prophecy was one of blessing. God had turned Balaam into an instrument to bless His people.

The Talmud[1] teaches us that even though Balak had ulterior motives for sacrificing the 42 animals to God, his reward was his descendant Ruth, the Moabite princess who converted and married Boaz out of whom came King Solomon who offered 1,000 sacrifices – a precursor to Mashiach. On the other hand, Balak’s 42 sacrifices were the spiritual source of a tragedy in which 42 children who had scorned the prophet Elishah and whom he had cursed were devoured by two bears from a forest (2 Kings, ch. 2).

After Elijah’s death, his disciple Elishah, dwelt in Jericho where the local water was bitter and unfit for drinking. A band of children earned their livelihood by bringing fresh water from afar but when Elishah miraculously sweetened the waters there these children followed Elishah and scorned him, nicknaming him “baldy.” Elishah cursed them and then two bears came out of the forest and devoured 42 of the children. Even though Elishah was the most righteous of prophets, he became the instrument for actualizing the curse that Balak wanted to bring on the Jewish people. In fact, the Arizal explains that the two bears that devoured the children harbored the incarnated souls of Balak and Balaam.

From this terrible story we learn that indeed there was some power in the sacrifices brought by Balak, and as great a prophet that Elishah was, he was only successful in directing that power to those, who according to the letter of the law, deserved it. Elishah lashed out harsh, chaotic judgments alluded to by the fact that Elishah’s name (?????) has a numerical value of 411, which is also the numerical value of “chaos” (???). Theoretically, Elishah’s curse was justified, because these children were delinquent, wicked, and deserving of punishment, as the Talmud[2] explains. Yet, Elishah’s approach was not the best educational route to take and he was later afflicted with illness as punishment for this act.

The Wonder Child

In the Zohar on this week’s Torah portion, we find a story that if contemplated correctly has the power to rectify these 42 children and all the children of the world, each of whom has the potential to become Mashiach.[3] The story begins when two of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s students visit the home of Rabbi Himnuna Saba, who was on the same exalted level of spirituality as Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (Rashbi) himself, like a spiritual brother. Rabbi Himnuna Saba had already passed away, and the two visitors were in fact unaware that this was his home. His widow invited them in and her young son came home from school early that day. Realizing that these were holy men, the mother told her son to approach them and ask for their blessing. However, on approaching them, the child recoiled and told his mother that he could not come near them because they had not yet read the Shema that day in its time. The two men overheard his words and were astounded because indeed they had been involved in another great mitzvah (of providing for a groom and bride) from early that morning and had thus been exempt from reading the Shema in its time. They asked the child how he knew this and he replied that he had smelled it from their clothing.

Jacob’s Blessing to the Children

Now, the sense of smell is the most messianic sense because we are taught that the Mashiach will be able to confirm the truth just by using his sense of smell.[4] So we see that this child certainly had a spark of Mashiach in him, and he continued to astonish the men with his knowledge of Torah and his esoteric innovations. Unable to reply to his profound Torah knowledge, the men asked him his father’s name. The child consulted with his mother and then told them that had they been worthy of it, his father’s soul would have accompanied them as an Arab traveler; therefore he would not tell them who he was. The child then proceeded to explain Jacob’s blessing to Ephraim and Menasheh, his grandsons from Joseph, “May the angel who redeemed me from all harm bless the youths, and may they be called by my name and the name of my fathers, Abraham and Isaac, and may they multiply abundantly like fish, in the midst of the land.”[5]

The two men returned to Rashbi and told him about this special child and Rashbi revealed to them that he was Rav Hamnuna’s son.

On hearing of this child prodigy, Rabbi Shimon’s own son, Rabbi Elazar, decided that he too must meet him. In his commentary on the Zohar, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak, the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s father, explains that since Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai is like a brother to Rav Hamnuna Saba, Rabbi Elazar sensed that his son must be his own spiritual partner. So, once, when Rabbi Elazar was on his way to visit his father-in-law, accompanied by Rabbi Abba and Rabbi Yosi, they took a detour and went to visit the child. While walking, they discussed the difference between the two nations of Amon andMoab. Incredibly, when they arrived, the child greeted them by telling them that he smelled from their clothing that Amon andMoabhad been “aggravating” them and he taught them how to overcome the impure influence of these two enemies. After discussing much Torah together and eating a meal with the child, the three men left.

Revealing the Mother’s Secret

Upon returning to Rashbi, he revealed that this child prodigy was not destined to live a long life, but he prayed that he should outlive his mother so that she would not suffer seeing her child pass away, and his prayers were answered.

Although the hero of this story is Rabbi Himnuna’s son, it is actually the boy’s mother who holds the secret of the number 42, a fact that is alluded to in the numerical value of “mother” (???), 42. In fact, in his commentary on this passage of the Zohar, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak explains that on the day that the first visit occurred, the fact that the boy returned home to his mother early represents the rising of his spiritual consciousness to the level of the “Supernal Mother.”

One of the opinions in the Talmud why Elishah considered the 42 children worthy of his curse is that their mothers had conceived them on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, which also corresponds to this level of Mother, when marital relations are strictly forbidden.

So we see that Rabbi Himnuna’s wife and their son hold the key to rectifying Elishah’s curse on the 42 children.

Balak and Mashiach

Above, we saw that every child has the potential to be Mashiach and that Rabbi Himnuna’s young son in particular, mentioned in the Zohar on the Torah portion of Balak, revealed that potential. We also saw that Balak’s sacrifices were rewarded in that Ruth, and eventually Mashiach, would be his descendants. In fact, Maimonides[6] states that there is one section in Balaam’s last prophecy that relates explicitly to Mashiach:[7]

“I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not soon. A star has stepped forth from Jacob, and a tribe has arisen fromIsraelwho will crush the princes ofMoaband uproot all the sons of Seth.Edomshall be possessed, and Seir shall become the possession of his enemies, andIsraelshall triumph. A ruler shall come out of Jacob, and destroy the remnant of the city.”

The eleven different phrases in these three verses all relate to a different spiritual aspect of the Mashiach, beginning with the initial aspect of self-sacrifice, as the Lubavitcher Rebbe taught.[8]May we soon merit the revelation of Mashiach to all ofIsraeland to the entire world.

[1] Sotah, 47a.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Shabbat, 119b.

[4] Sanhedrin, 93b.

[5] Genesis, 48:16.

[6] Hilchot Melachim, 11:4.

[7] Numbers, 24:17-19.

[8] Torat Menachem, Vol. 24, Part II, 1Tamuz, 5726.

One of the central points in the Torah portion of Naso is the Priestly Blessing, physician order “God shall bless you and keep you. God shall shine His countenance towards you and grace you. God shall raise His countenance towards you and grant you peace.” The verse that follows these three verses is, health “And they shall place My Name upon the Children of Israel and I will bless them.” Rashi explains that the meaning of this additional verse is, “I will bless them – i.e. the nation of Israel—and I will consent with the kohanim (priests). Another meaning is, I will bless the kohanim.” These two interpretations that Rashi mentions appear in the Talmud as two differing opinions,

Rabbi Ishma’el said, “We have learned that the Jewish people be blessed by the kohanim, but we have not learned that there is a blessing for the kohanim themselves. But, when the verse states, “I will bless them,” it means that the kohanim bless the Jewish people and God blesses the kohanim.

Rabbi Akiva says, ‘We have learned that the Jewish people be blessed by the kohanim, but we have not learned that they [the Jewish people] are blessed by God Himself. But, when the verse states, “And I will bless them” it is to say that the kohanim bless the nation of Israel and God consents to their blessing. (Chulin, 49a).

Although in the Talmud Rabbi Ishma’el’s opinion is mentioned first, Rashi in his commentary first mentions Rabbi Akiva’s opinion, that the words, “And I will bless them” refer to the Jewish people.” We can learn from this that Rashi considers this opinion the more literal interpretation, more than that of Rabbi Ishmael, whom Rashi quotes second.

However, the Zohar emphasizes the opinion that “And I will bless them” refers to the kohanim” (in the Zohar this interpretation is stated in the name of Rabbi Yehuda, not Rabbi Yishma’el), implying that this is the more mystical interpretation of the verse. In fact, this explanation is alluded to by the numerical equality between the Hebrew words for, “And I will bless them” (???? ?????) and the often repeated phrase, “Aaron and his sons” (???? ?????), who are of course the kohanim!

In the Talmud, the question is asked, where do we learn that the kohanim are also blessed, and the answer is given that we learn this from the promise God gave Abraham that, “I will bless those who bless you” meaning that whomever blesses a Jew will be blessed himself. The Talmud then asks further, if so, then when Rabbi Ishmael explains that God blesses the kohanim, what is he adding? And the reply is that this phrase sets the kohanim in the same context as the Jewish nation so that they are blessed together with them. So, everyone agrees that the kohanim do receive a blessing, but Rabbi Ishmael adds that this is not merely by virtue of their having blessed the Jewish people (and then God’s promise to bless those who bless the Jewish people sets in), but that they also receive their own blessing from God.

A similar explanation is offered for the second interpretation, referring to the blessing with which God blesses the Jewish nation. According to Rabbi Ishmael this is the literal explanation of the verse so it does not need to be stated, because if God commands the kohanim to bless the Jewish nation, then it is obvious that He consents to the blessing and blesses the Jewish nation. Yet Rabbi Akiva assumes that there is an additional blessing and that the verse, “And they shall place My Name upon the Children of Israel,” refers to the blessing that the kohanim bless the Jewish nation, while “And I will bless them” – means that God will add even more blessing.

A Blessing to Kohanim to Bless Jews

In order to see how these two interpretations complement one another, let’s return to Rabbi Ishmael’s statement in the Talmud, which in the Zohar appears as Rabbi Yehuda’s opinion: “And I will bless them” refers to the kohanim. If we contemplate this special addition, it is quite clear that this blessing is not just for the benefit of the kohanim but to add even more blessing to the Jewish people. The task of the kohanim, sons of Aharon who “loves peace and pursues peace,” is to bring blessing and peace upon the Jewish nation, both as God’s messengers and as envoys of the nation. So, we cannot reasonably explain that mixed into their blessing of the Jewish people is an egotistic interest in bringing blessing upon themselves. The whole point of the blessing of the kohanim is to “bless His people of Israel with love.” This idea is especially emphasized in the Zohar, which states immediately following this explanation, “Any kohen who is not loved by the people, should not bless them.” To illustrate this statement, an anecdote follows, which relates of a kohen who “did not bless with love” and was gravely punished for doing so. Indeed, this is even the legal ruling. This explanation of the additional blessing of “And I will bless them,” therefore comes to teach us that the blessing that the kohanim receive in order to bless the Jewish nation is from a much higher source than the blessing that any other person receives as a result of blessing a Jew, because they receive their blessing from God in the context of the entire Jewish people, thereby augmenting enormously the impact of the blessing.

Unconditional Blessing and a Bonus Blessing from the Righteous

Explaining this further, we may observe that there are two levels of blessing within the Priestly Blessing:

The first level is a direct blessing from God to the Jews that stems from the phrase, “And they shall place My Name upon the Children of Israel and I will bless them.” What is special about this particular blessing is that it does not depend on the deeds of the Jewish nation. As the Lubavitcher Rebbe explains, the blessing of the kohanim has an advantage over all the other blessings that appear in the Torah portion of Bechukotai (such as, “I will grant you rain… I will grant you peace… I will grant My dwelling… etc”), because they are all conditional upon, “If you walk in My statutes.” But, the blessing of the kohanim is absolutely unconditional. In fact, not only is the Priestly Blessing not affected by the state of the Jewish people being blessed, it is also independent of the deeds or spiritual level of the kohanim who confer the blessing, and it does not demand any special intention on their part. Even kohanim who are sinners are permitted to bless the people (except under certain circumstances). As Maimonides explains (Hilchot tefilah venesi’at kapayim, 106):

Even though he [the kohen] is not a sage and is not meticulous in his observance of the mitzvot, or even if people complain about him, or even if his business profile is not clean, he can still raise his hands [in blessing] and may not be prevented from doing so. Because this is a positive commandment for every single kohen that it is fitting for him to raise his hands… Also, you should not question to what use this simpleton’s blessing might be?’ because receiving the blessing does not depend upon the kohanim, but upon God, as it says, ‘And they shall place My Name upon the Children of Israel and I will bless them.’ The kohanim do as they are commanded by God in His compassion to bless the Jewish people as He pleases.”

So, the first level of blessing found in the Priestly Blessing is dependent only on God, and independent of both those blessing (the kohanim) and those being blessed (the Jewish people).

But, above and beyond this first level of blessing lies a second level, which is dependent on the kohanim, who act in this case not just out of God’s command that they bless the people, but out of a willingness to assume the role of figurative heads of the Jewish people. This same role is assumed by the righteous individuals, tzadikim, through whom blessing is transmitted to the Jewish nation. Tzadikim are like a clear conduit through whom abundance flows. Apparently, Rabbi Ishmael and Rabbi Yehudah (who interpreted the words, “And I will bless them” as referring to God blessing the kohanim themselves) were aiming at this second level of blessing flowing through the kohanim. At this level, the blessing increases in proportion to the spiritual level of the kohen conferring the blessing. The closer the kohen is to the level of Aharon, who loves peace and pursues peace, the more the blessing of abundance will flow through him. So, we can interpret the words of Rabbi Ishmael in the Talmud by saying that in fact, the blessing that the kohanim receive from God is on behalf of the Jewish nation, meaning that the kohanim are blessed from a higher source in order to bring down additional blessing to the Jewish nation.

The distinction between these two levels of blessing is hinted at in the difference between the two references to God, “My Name” and “I” found in the verse, “And they shall place My Name upon the Children of Israel and I will bless them.” “My Name” is the level to which the entire nation ofIsrael belongs, for God calls His Name upon us all, whereas “I” is the level that is above, “My Name” and indicates God’s essence, above all names and connotations. The truth is that even this level belongs to every Jew, whoever and wherever he may be, because we are all God’s children and we all have a Divine soul that is, “An actual part of God above,” but this level only manifests in the righteous, so much so that one can look at a righteous person and actually see the Divine Presence (as the sages teach us that the phrase “before the Lord God” refers to Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai). In fact, combining the letters of “My Name” (???) and “I” (???) forms the word ??????, referring to the leaders ofIsrael mentioned in the Torah immediately following the Priestly Blessing.

“The lips of the kohen will guard knowledge… for he is an angel of the God of Hosts.” When we have the privilege of kohanim who are at the spiritual level of righteous tzadikim, full of the grace and sanctity of angels, then they receive their blessing from the highest source of blessing and we receive unlimited blessing through them. Through kohanim such as these, the entire Jewish nation receives great light, “God shall shine His countenance towards you and grace you… and grant you peace.”

From Harav Ginsburgh’s class, Sivan 8, 5772

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