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The Sidra focuses on the organization of Bene Yisrael “Take a census of all the congregation of the people of Israel, by families, by the house of their fathers, according to the number of names, every male by their polls;” (BaMidbar 1:2). Rabbi Meir Leibish Malbim ZT’L (BaMidbar 1:2) points out the earlier census (Shemoth 30:12-16) served to determine how many Bene Yisrael were there. Whereas the census recorded in the beginning of BaMidbar is focused on how the individual is associated with their family, clan and tribe. Establishing a detailed familial context for each individual is considered a prerequisite for the D-vine presence to dwell amongst Bene Yisrael.
Possibly another way to understand the Malbim is by considering that organizing the nation according to tribe, clan and family the criteria for dividing the Land of Israel among those entering the land. Where one lives is connected one’s identity implies that this specific place belongs to this specific person meaning in the design of creation these are the circumstances necessary for an individual to fulfill one’s destiny and fulfill one’s potential. This is where one’s observance would be most fulfilling. This is where one through Torah and Mitzvoth unites heaven and Earth.(see generally Kli Yakar BaMidbar 1:2).
The point the Kli Yakar notes these assignments are not arbitrary arrangements that fit some sociological metric or bureaucratic paradigm constructed by theory in the abstract. Nor is one’s place in the scheme of things are not designed solely for the benefit of society. Under such scenarios the process as well as the results all but negate the individual. Whereas this census and organization is the product of D-vine Providence. Who one uniquely is and where uniquely one belongs only has real meaning if that identity and location are suited for that individual to the point of being optimal for one’s fulfillment and success. So that far from reducing the individual to a mere cog in a greater whole the census and organization of Bene Yisrael by family, clan and tribe detailed in Sidra celebrates the uniqueness of each person.
How appropriate then that Parashat BaMidbar is always read on the Sabbath before the festival of Law Giving, Shavouth.
Shavouth is called the “Season of Torah Giving” the threshold question is to understand what is intended since the simple meaning is misleadingly inadequate. Why did HaShem give Jewry the Torah and the accompanying body of law? Rabbi Ytzchak Ibn Abuchav ZT’L ZY’A in Menorath HaMeor ZT’L ZY’A offers a remarkable insight. Absent the Law Giving at Sinai one would be prone to ascribe true power to the various natural forces instead of G-D A-mighty. Through the Torah and Mitzvoth serve as the means to see G-D as the source of all things.
One should echo the emotion expressed by Rav Yossef in the Talmud (Pesachim 68b)would celebrate Shavout with a fatted calf. The Rabbi explained the reason for the extravagance that but for that day of learning how many other Yossefs are there in the marketplace? Rashi ZT’L ZY’A comments “[Rav Yossef] that day when I learnt Torah and was elevated otherwise what distinguishes me from any other person named Yossef ” Rav Yossef according to Rashi was not expressing his joy over some intellectual enlightenment obtained from Torah study but how it affected him personally, how it raised me adds Rashi.
Rashi’s addition points to Rav Yossef’s statement as one of gratitude and not the product of elitism or jingoism. Rav Yossef remains aware there is no real difference between Jews and the rest of humanity. The only thing that sets Jewry apart is Torah. Not the subject matter that falls under the rubric of Torah. Rather what Rav Yossef giving thanks for was Torah as a means of connecting to G-D, the means of nurturing and expressing the D-vine image in which man was created. Bene Yisrael through Torah connect to their ancestors’ courageous articulation of faith , to remain aware of one’s being fashioned in the image of G-D and how to balance between the physical and spiritual thereby realizing the full spectrum of human experience and potential. Rav Yossef knew but for Torah he could not rise beyond his identity as another Yossef in the marketplace, just another person living a life hemmed in by the limits of the physical world. However because of Shavout, because Rav Yossef studied Torah with the intention of eyeing the G-Dliness within, with the intention of learning how to be an integrated whole person both of body and soul. This capacity to embrace the full scope of human potential only becomes accessible through Torah. Rav Yossef was celebrating his ethnicity albeit in the form thanksgiving for a D-vine gift.
The whole person is celebrated one’s identity in the context of nation, tribe, clan and family as well as where one’s is physically situated are the product of G-D’s concern to facilitate an individual’s success. Further the means to fully express positive human potential G-D bestows the means to do so within the parameters of the physical world through Torah and Mitzvoth.