Sefer BaMidbar is the story of a great test: Can the disparate tribes of Israel put into practice the lessons learned during the revelation at Sinai and the subsequent building of the Mishkan. Can they forge themselves into a nation capable of conquering their ancestral homeland and building a just and lasting society?
Hiding between the seemingly dry—and to the modern ear, somewhat esoteric—laws of Parashat Metzora is a fascinating insight into the nature of reality and human knowledge. The laws of the “plague-afflicted house” and the zav teach us about living in a world where certain things are in principle unmeasurable, and where observation can change reality.
Parashat Shminit: What was the crime of Nadav and Avihu, who were consumed by divine fire while offering incense? It turns out that by comparing this incident with a later one, in which Moshe strikes a rock to bring forth water, we can learn a lot about miracles, holiness, and leadership.
In our parashah, the phrase: “Beit Yisrael”, the House of Israel appears for only the second time in the entire Torah. The first was in regard to the manna, where the Torah tells us that, not knowing what it was, “the House of Israel” called it “man”, that is, “what’s this?” Is there a common denominator in these two cases, or is this merely a coincidental quirk of style? I believe that not only is there something in common between these two appearances, but that the commonality has much to teach us.
This week’s parashah opens with an odd juxtaposition. Just before explaining to the Israelites how the Mishkan is to be constructed, Moshe pauses to exhort the people to sanctify the Shabbat. Why is the commandment of the Shabbat inserted here? The usual answer is that building the Mishkan—as important as it is—nevertheless does not over-ride the prohibition of work on Shabbat. But this only puts off the question: why are we are told to sanctify the Shabbat by ceasing all creative work on that day?
How could Moshe, who, more than any other figure, stands for Torah…how could he destroy the precious written record of the Covenant, inscribed by God’s own hand? Moreover, how is it that the sages of the Talmud praised Moshe’s actions and hailed him as a hero for breaking the tablets? The answer lies in the difference between the first set of tablets and the second.
our parasha heralds a political revolution in Israel, though this can be easy to miss among the details. We’re so used to thinking of Aharon and his sons as the “normal” kohanim of Israel that we come to take this from granted. But the tribe of Levi was not always set apart for Divine service, nor were the kohanim originally from that tribe.
It’s been noted that the Mishkan which the Israelites were commanded to build in the desert bears a striking resemblance to the royal military tent of Pharaoh Ramses II. Further, the Ark of the Covenant appears to have been modeled after an Egyptian sacred boat. What are we to make of these parallels? Are they merely a matter of historical curiosity or is there a deeper meaning?
This week’s parashah takes place in the midst of the dramatic ceremony of the Covenant at Sinai. The Israelites have accepted the terms and conditions and now stand poised to sign on the dotted line. Now comes the small print: the actual terms and conditions they are to keep. But there’s something very odd about the way the names of God come up in presenting these laws….
In the immediate aftermath of the exodus, the Israelites are faced with a series of tests designed to ascertain whether this newly constituted nation can escape their mental slavery in order to take on the mission that God has in mind for them. The results illustrate that it’s easier to take the people out of Egypt than to take Egypt out of the people!