Parashat Bamidbar (Numbers 1:1-4:20)

“And with you shall be one man from each tribe;
a man who is a leader of his father’s household.” (Numbers 1:4)

If the first three books of the Torah describe the roots (Genesis), birth (Exodus), and commitment (Leviticus) of the Jewish people, Bamidbar (Numbers) chronicles the transition of the Jewish people. It connects the past in Egypt to the future in Canaan, the Promised Land. Parashat Bamidbar describes the preparations necessary for the 38-year journey through the wilderness.

Moses has neither a map nor an itinerary for the trip through the harsh, unyielding, and unchanging desert. The point, however, is not merely to get from Egypt to Canaan (although the Passover Haggadah tells us that alone is dayeinu, or sufficient). The journey through the wilderness also gives the Israelites the necessary time and space to change, to become free spiritually as well as free physically. This is the primary purpose of Moses’ leadership and for this, he has a compass—the Torah—to keep the Israelites pointed in the right direction. Moses spends the rest of his life trying to get the Israelites to follow that compass.

So, when Bamidbar gives the lineage of Aaron’s sons, who become the kohanim, or priests, it begins with, “These are the offspring of Aaron and Moses on the day God spoke with Moses at Mount Sinai.” (Num. 3:1). Rashi (an acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, the pre-eminent 11th century Jewish commentator) explains: since Moses teaches his nephews Torah, he assumes the role of their spiritual parent and they become his children, too. Moses knows he must teach the people if they are to change and he knows the best way to teach is by personal example. For Moses, leading and living are one and the same.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

David