This Parsha is an interesting collection of bits and pieces. And that is very appropriate to this week for me. I am no longer surprised, and I am always amazed that the Parsha is always so much like where I am in any given week. (For those of you saying what does she mean about surprised vs amazed, please allow to digress and explain it this way: Noah Webster, of dictionary fame, was having a fling with the maid in the pantry when his wife entered. "Noah, I am surprised!" she exclaimed. "No, my dear." Noah responded, "You are amazed, I am surprised." )
There are many things that repeatedly amaze me -- like colors. It is incredible how many greens are part of trees and bushes, how many reds, pinks, purples in a sunset. If you have trouble seeing this, look at a paint-by-the-number before it is painted -- there are not big patches of one color, there are interweavings of little bits of color in a variety of shades.
And if you were to do a paint by the number painting, how would you do it? When I was little, I would do these paintings because I loved what they depicted. I would work very meticulously to stay exactly in each line, painting each color exactly in its prescribed box. I got very good at making sure that colors touched each other and no white showed through, making sure that one color was completely dry before the next one was painted. I thought I did a very precise job of it, taking great pains.
My mother (a'h) would frame these efforts and put them proudly throughout the house. I thought that was pretty neat.
Then one day, I saw somebody else's paint-by-number painting and it was quite different from mine. It really looked like a picture, even up close, and not an assembly of isolated color patches (like mine did if you looked at them up close). I studied that painting for a long time because I had painted that exact selection. I really liked the way this person's painting looked compared to mine. There was a simple, but huge difference between our paintings. She had blended the colors, using the pre-markings as guides, not as boundaries. What a difference! What a lesson!
How often do we turn things into boundaries that needn't be? How often do we become trapped in boxes that we lock ourselves into? My father (a'h) used to say that only one thing was absolute -- that our physical bodies would someday die. The rest, he would say, was conscious choice -- even taxes. (That taxes are imposed is a given; we chose to pay them as opposed to suffering the consequences of not paying them -- that IS a choice)
And so, everything we do during the course of our day is in the end a conscious (or unconscious -- if we choose to make it that way) choice. Wow -- what power we have. What responsibility we have. Instead of saying to ourselves, "I have to do ....", we need to tell the truth to our Selfs (Neshamot), that "we chose to do....".
It has become a goal to me to say this as often as I can to myself. I choose to prioritize davvening over going shopping or sleeping in (or the opposite). I choose to get this d'var out every week or I chose to let something else take priority over it. I chose to let anger get the best of me, or I chose not to allow that. I chose to make my actions a blessing or not. I chose to ... you get the idea.
And just because I chose one thing the last time, doesn't mean I "have to" do something this time. I always have the power to choose, every time there is a decision in front of me -- basically every minute of every day. The more conscious I can make my decision process, the more present I can become in my actions -- the more I can choose to let the Holy One into my day or not. And so I choose to ask as often as I can remember -- Is what I am doing a praise of the Divine or not? Who are my thoughts and actions really serving?
Am I good at that? Not as good as I would like to be -- it takes a lot of work! It is much easier to just go through the day feeling like a victim of circumstances and crying my Neshama's heart out that nothing can be done. That's the easy part, woe is me.
And unfortunately, our Neshama REALLY trusts us -- what we tell her, she believes -- so strong is her faith in us. We DO create reality for her and for ourselves. What a responsibility! Oy! Yah, our Neshama, she is a most precious gift that You give us, Your image, Your spark -- may we have the strength and the courage to tell her the truth and help her learn and serve You. (Yah, haNeshama shelanu, hee matana yakarah b'yoteyr shenatat(a) lanu, betzalmeych(m'cha), beneetzotzeych(tz'cha) -- t'ni(tayn) lanu ko'akh v'ometz lomar la et ha'emet v'la'azor la lil'mod v'la'avod otach(ot'cha) b'emet.)
1. Parsha details: Num 25:10-30:1 ( tri 28:16-30:1 ) [ Haftorah I Kings 18:46-19:21 ]
2. Questions and a few observations
Summary: Reward of familial priesthood for Eleazar and more details about Zimri and Cozbi, the census by Moshe and Eleazar, the issue of the daughters, the repeat of Moshe's sentence, the selecting of Y'hoshu'a (including laying on of hands), the list of sacrifices for the various times.
This Parsha is typical of so many Parshayot in that it is a braiding, and intertwining of various themes. One such theme is the transition from Moshe and Aharon with Miryam to Eleazar and Y'hoshu'a. Another theme is the preparation for life in the land. Minor themes include the status of women as inheritors of land, how inheritances are to be handled in general and what sacrifices go with what holidays/times.
The transition theme structure is typical of this theme in Torah -- somebody relinquishes power and somebody is selected to succeed. The reasons for power falling from one's hands is given and the reason for the new selection is also given -- and then there is a public display to clue everyone in on what has happened.
Aharon and Miryam spoke against Moshe and then Aharon and Moshe were impatient at the rock and the water -- so none of them will enter the Land. Eleazar becomes Coheyn haGadol and this will travel through his son Pin'khas because of the son's zeal. Y'hoshu'a will succeed Moshe because he didn't discourage the people in the matter of the scouts (and has been Moshe's attendant/protege).
The succession of Pin'khas is easier -- he is the son of Eleazar, so this is to be expected. The transition to Y'hoshu'a is a little more difficult. Moshe has two sons, but we do not hear much about them. They become keepers of the treasury and related financial aspects. In today's frame of reference we would say that they were probably very left brain and perhaps not given to the creativity needed by leaders.
It is very interesting that we do not hear much at all about Moshe's sons -- it is Y'hoshu'a who is always at Moshe's side or Eleazar, Aharon's son. And so he is the one to inherit.
When people theorize that there is no Moshe, I often bring up this point. If a later time created the Moshe narrative as a justification for their own existence, wouldn't it have made a whole lot more sense to make themselves the descendants of Moshe? But his sons become just priests, not the high priest; they are in charge of the treasury -- powerful, but thankless -- and not the man in charge, like Y'hoshu'a became.
So if you were going to create a text, a story, that justified your power, your existence, you position, how would you have written this story?
Now let's look at the numbers here a minute: 601,730 for all of Yisra'el (men over twenty and probably under sixty even though an upper limit is not mentioned -- they had to be "able to go to war", so the old and the disabled were not counted)
R'uveyn - 43,730 ( 4 families / avg family size - 10933 men)
[sidebar about Datan and Aviram of Korakh fame]
Shimon - 22,200 ( 5 / 4440 )
Gad - 40,500 ( 7 / 5786 )
Y'hudah - 76,500 ( 5 / 15,300 )
[sidebar about the two sons who died before going to Egypt]
Isachar - 64,300 ( 4 / 16075 )
Zevulun - 60,500 ( 3 / 20167 )
Menashe - 52,700 ( 8 + 5 daughters named / 4054 )
Efrayim - 32,500 ( 4 / 8125 )
Benyamin - 45,600 ( 7 / 6514 )
Dan - 64,400 ( 1 / 64,400 )
Asher - 53,400 ( 5 + 1 daughter named / 8900 )
Naftali - 45,400 ( 4 / 11,350 )
Levi'im 23,000 from one month up ( 9 families / 2556 )
[sidebar about Korakh]
So we have 57 sons who head families and 6 daughters who do so, bringing the total to 63. Add in the 9 priestly families and we have 72. The average family size is 9551, average priestly family is 2556. Dan has one of the largest tribes, but only one family -- only one representative. Menashe has the most heads of families and the smallest family size, which would make them pretty powerful if we assume that most issues were decided according to tribal membership. And the 250 who died in the Korakh rebellion were not a significant number ( 0.04% of the population ), especially compared to the 24,000 lost in the plague. Of course, if they were all Cohanim, then the percentage becomes about 1.1% of the Cohanim.
Also, notice that Re'uven is numbered down to the tens while all the other tribes are rounded to even hundreds, Levi'im to thousands.
Compare their numbers to the distribution of land: (2 of the maps I have found on the web are linked here -- there were many more maps, some pretty poor)
The land was to be distributed according to the number of names -- the more numerous would get a larger inheritance. Now, which names does one count? If it is heads of families, then the loss of Datan and Aviram would have been very significant for the tribe of R'uveyn.
The insert about the women asking Moshe about their right to inherit is included to explain how the women acquired the status of "head-of-household" since they had that status if they were included in the list.
3. Some Observations
And so we transition. Y'hoshu'a is designated as the leader to follow Moshe -- and to lead the people militarily while Moshe is still with them. By now, Moshe is quite old, having been an old man when he went before Pharaoh.
And so, Moshe yismokh at yadav - he puts out his hands onto Y'hoshu'a. This word is the forerunner of today's rabbinic ordination -- s'micha (or s'michut). Moshe is instructed to place his hand on Y'hoshu'a and to give him some of Moshe's glory (hod) in a way that is heard by everyone. The important quality that Y'hoshu'a has is that he has ru'akh, spirit, in him.
So the important quality is not wealth, fame or wisdom. It is not great learning or even kadosh holiness, it is ru'akh, spirit.
What's so special about Ru'akh? Why is it the single most important quality? The term is used 41 times in Torah and 398 times in TaNaKH. It is used by Pharaoh as a desired quality when Yosef is selected. It is used in the context of courage in the story of Rakhav, the harlot of Yericho when she says that the people no longer have this quality. It is usually coupled with either Elohim (God) or Khakhma (wisdom) -- and in the usage with Y'hoshu'a, it has neither coupling. Does this mean it has both connotations? Or perhaps they are really the same thing? (Oy, I see a spark coming here for a project...)
There is a subtle underlying meaning in the s'mach, the laying of hands and it has to do with trust. It is about being able to rely on someone and there is a sense that this trust extends some distance, as in "trusting from afar". And that is also how the term, I believe, came to be used for ordination as well. The object here is that we cannot teach someone what to do in every circumstance -- for we have no way of predicting what circumstances might arise in the future.
There are no guidebooks we can give, no "cookbooks" that industry seems to love. When I worked at Goodyear as an engineer, the engineers to whom I would teach new methods always asked for "cookbooks" so that they would know what to do. It used to annoy me because I would think to myself "don't they want to learn the logic behind it?" Now I see that the answer was no, they wanted to be followers. They lacked this ru'akh. This ru'akh is a quality that enables a person to think, have courage and to channel the answer rather than acting by a rigid set of rules. It is the ability to integrate all of one's learning into being present for what's before you.
And this is very much an important distinction between leaders and followers. And when a new Rabbi is ordained, it means that his or her teachers now have trust in that person that they have both sufficient learning (khakhma) in which to frame their decisions and the spirit (ruakh Elohim) to bring that learning to task for the actions needed (and the courage to know when to go back to the books and learn some more).
4. Intimate Contraction
Definitely. Last week was expansion, mercy, khesed. This week it is the other side -- contraction, strength, gevura. Leadership is about knowing when to do which.
Transitions are always somewhat precarious, a time when everything we have worked for to this point is in greatest danger of "falling apart". As the baton is passed, it is easy to fall back and say "I thought the other guy was going to handle that" and things stop happening. And so transitions need to be handled carefully and with strength. This Parsha shows that clearly as Y'hoshu'a takes on more and more of the responsibilities of leadership. And Pin'khas takes on some of the priesthood.
And the natural balance and interaction between Moshe and Aharon and Miryam must now be formalized and declared to the people. This is another element of gevura, contraction, strength. "And he will stand before Eleazar, the Coheyn, and ask him about judgements of the shining light, before YHVH, they will discuss this back and forth, for himself and the children of Yisra'el with him, and for all of the community."
1. Hands and trust: Study the hand. How is it used to signify trust? How is it used to show a lack of trust. How do you hold your hand before the One? How do you hold you hands before friends, children, teachers. How much power is in our hands? How do we use them for blessing, for good? Do you use them when you talk? How? If you do, try talking without moving them for a bit and if you don't, then try using them with your speech for a while. What changes?
2. Names and families: When you think about family and friends, how do you name them? Do you follow the biblical example of saying "XX and XX's family"? When do you assign a family to a woman and when do you assign it to a man. What's different? Who are the leaders in families that you know? What sets them apart?
3. Ru'akh: What does it feel like to have ru'akh (Elohim and Khakhma) inside us? What are examples of how this affects us? What are some examples of having ru'akh, what are some examples of lacking it? What are the dangers either way? How can you nurture ru'akh in yourself? in others? in children?
ADS: ALEPH -- the Alliance for Jewish renewal. www.aleph.org If you aren't a member yet, please give very serious consideration to joining. The magazine, New Menorah, alone, is worth whatever you give. (Plus it helps pay for the rabbinic program where I am studying!)
And you can order the Torah Cards and my jewelry through Mercaz at (216)595-0707 -- ask for Larry)
There are many traditional interpretations of the parsha that I neither talk about nor mention. That is done from a position of space. I trust that the average reader is either familiar with these or can find many of them easily in other commentaries readily available.
Thanks for reading this. If I have offended you, please forgive me -- that was not my intention. If you found some joy or happiness in reading this, thank you for allowing me to be a part. If you found a reason to think about something more deeply - kol hakavod and thank you!
And to the people giving me feedback thank you so much! I enjoy all of it. (Including the typos) You have made this weekly practice wonderful.
(c) 2001 Candy Lobb All rights reserved