07 June 2024

Week of 0208 June 2024

Torah portion: Numbers 1:1-4.20   Haftarah: Hosea 2: 1-22

Theme: The Lord’s Love for His Unfaithful People

This Parashat B’Midbar may seem to many of us somewhat militaristic. Here troops are en-rolled in the tribal militia, and a census taken pending the conquest of Canaan. According to the Women’s Torah however, the opening chapters of Numbers are in one sense utopian as the generation of ex-slaves are incapable of re-making themselves into a nation of warriors who can take the Promised Land. Abarbanel says that the time in the desert was basic training in living the teachings of Leviticus. Had the people gone directly into the Promised Land they might have taken their slave-mentality with them.

The LORD asked for a count of the people, “Make a census of the whole community of Israel
 recording the name of every male person” (Num 1:2). “Knowing someone’s ‘number’ was equivalent to knowing that person’s essence, ultimately a divine prerogative [Plaut]. In Egypt the Israelites were nameless, now they were free to be called by name. Ramban offers a reason for this, “Each member of the nation has the right to benefit from the personal attention of Moses and Aaron and the census was a great opportunity for every Jew who came before the ‘father of the prophets and his brother, the holy one of God’ to tell them his name and to be counted as an individual of personal worth” (Stone Chumash).

 God loves each individual, “Because the love of them is before him, he counts them every hour.” [Rashi]. Jewish tradition takes the issue of bloodshed with utter seriousness and is deeply opposed to any sort of wanton killing. As a long-standing member of the peace movement, I do too. The stories of two young girls, about which I learned in recent Netflix programs, have highlighted for me why a dispossessed people in the wilderness would want to enroll their sons in a militia strong enough to inhabit a land that promised them security and survival.

Helene was one of the holocaust-surviving children who came to Britain on the Kinder-transport. Her family had fled to Czechoslovakia hoping to be safe from Hitler; but when they heard on the radio about the Munich agreement they felt betrayed. As Hitler invaded the Sudetenland, Helene remembered their horror, which she didn’t understand at the time. But she had the rest of her life as an orphan to discover why she and her family would never be re-united. The other girl, Amal from Gaza, witnessed her father shot dead, and now has shrapnel lodged in her brain. History shows that most Christians have set more store by the security provided by national armies than the cheek-turning tactics of Jesus. Jews who survived the callousness of their Christian neighbors during the Shoah have learned that an unarmed nation or minority, without a homeland or state protection is at permanent risk of genocide. Palestinians feel they are learning a similar lesson – and the killing continues.

For Reflection and Discussion: 1. Should we also atone for the bloodshed of those who are charged with our protection? 2.  Are we dedicated to God for special service of protecting the community, family or own country? 

Bibliography: McKenzie, J.L. Dictionary of the Bible (New York: 1965), Goldstein, ed., The Women’s Torah Commentary (Vermont, 2000); Plaut, The Torah: a Modern Commentary (New York, 1981).

This week’s Parasha Commentary was prepared by
Dunhill Malunar Timkang, Israel-Jerusalem, Bat Kol Alumnus: 2023

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