Torah for the Times

Friday, May 25, 2012 - 4 Sivan, 5772

Torah Reading:BaMidbar (Numbers 1:1 - 4:20)
Candle Lighting Time: 7:57 PM
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The Census Triumvirate

Why Three Census Takers?

This week’s parsha, Bamidbar, discusses the census of the Jewish people in the desert that was taken by Moses, Aaron and the Nasi/leader of each of the twelve tribes. In the Torah’s own words: “Take the sum of the entire congregation of the children of Israel…You and Aaron should count them… there should be with you a person from each tribe, one who is head of his father’s house.” The Torah then proceeds to list the heads of the twelve tribes who were to accompany Moses and Aaron for the census.

Why was it necessary for Moses to have others with him in fulfilling his task? Were three people really necessary? Couldn’t one or two leaders have sufficed to direct the census?

Revealing their Talents

In truth, the counting of the Jewish nation in the desert was not an ordinary census. Counting them was intended to bring out their hidden talents. The fact that it was done in the desert—and the Torah makes a point of stressing that the census was indeed done in the desert—indicates that the purpose of the census was to empower the Jews to withstand the pressures of living in a desert.

These 600,000 plus Jews, we are told, were general souls that encompassed within them the souls of all subsequent generations of Jews. The census thus helped to illuminate Jewish souls by unlocking the spiritual energy of all future generations. And since this census occurred when the Jewish people were in the desert—as the Torah underscores in the very beginning of this parsha—it follows that it applies specifically to the period of galus/exile which is likened to a desert.

Two Intertwined Names

Indeed, the fourth book of Torah has been given two names: “Bamidbar/In the Desert” and “Chumash Hapikudim/the Book of Numbers.” These two names reflect an intrinsic connection between these two themes. Being in a desert—literally and figuratively—requires special energy to enable us to cope with its hostile environment. The desert that the Jews traversed is described in the Torah in most foreboding terms: “Great and fearful desert” (Devarim 1:19); “Who led you through that great and awesome desert, where there were snakes, serpents and scorpions, and thirst but no water.” (Devarim 8:15). These descriptions aptly describe the horrible physical and spiritual conditions of life in exile.

According to the great Kabbalist, the Ari, our generation—which the Rebbe has repeatedly designated as the “last generation of exile and the first of Redemption”—is a reincarnation of the generation of the desert. It follows then that the details of the census of the Jews in the desert has a direct and powerful message to our generation in particular.

The three census takers represent three forms of positive energy that were generated and channeled to us. And these three forms of energy are especially relevant to our generation as we stand on the threshold of the final Redemption:

Moses: Seeing the World through G‑d’s Prism

Moses was G‑d’s foremost representative to the Jewish people and indeed to the entire world. Moses brought the Torah down from Mount Sinai and introduced it to us; this is the event that recurs every year during the upcoming Festival of Shavuos. Moses’ reality is primarily a Torah reality, which means that he sees things from G‑d’s perspective.

Moses’ involvement in conducting the census empowered us to see things from G‑d’s perspective. Whenever we study Torah we get a glimpse into that Divine mindset. This is particularly so with respect to the study of the inner dimension of Torah revealed by the Ba’al Shem Tov (whose passing coincides with Shavuos), which focuses on G‑d, His attributes and His relationship to our world.

When we see things through the prism of Torah—G‑d’s prism—it helps us weather the stormy events of exile. Torah provides us with a radically different and sanguine way of viewing life. No wonder King David (whose passing also coincides with the upcoming Festival of Shavuos) speaks in his book of Tehillim, especially Psalm 119, of how the Torah saved him during his periods of distress. The entire universe is inconsequential when compared to one small detail of Torah. Torah is the celestial song that drowns out all of the static caused by exile. Torah neutralizes all the spiritual snakes and scorpions that threaten our well being.

Aaron: Igniting the Sparks

To complement Moses’ contribution to the census Aaron, the second census taker, was the ultimate representative of the Jewish people. Aaron was their patron and confidant. Aaron was a man of the people. And it was Aaron, who was charged with the responsibility to light the Menorah; it is he who inspires us to ignite our own inner flame and passion for all that is holy and good.

Exile has the ability to dampen our spirits and cool off the ardor we have for anything spiritual. We will not be receptive to Moses giving us the Torah, which enables us to see things from G‑d’s perspective, if our senses are numbed. Aaron wakes us up and inspires us to bring out the best in ourselves. Aaron, even more than Moses, was able to unite the people, because he was able to touch them and reveal their true love for one another just as he was able to arouse their souls’ passion for G‑d.

Tribal Leaders: Revealing our Individuality

To make the census complete and enable it to unleash our full potential to cope with exile and to ultimately break out of the exile referred to as the “desert of nations” we also need the third census taker, the leaders of each of the twelve tribes.

As much as Moses and Aaron deal with the Jewish people on a national level, it is crucial that each tribe and segment of the nation appreciate its own individualistic talents and contributions towards our liberation from galus.

If a Jew only appreciates his or her role as a member of a collective entity and loses his or her individuality he or she will look for other avenues and outlets for self-expression., but such an attitude might instead get them into a deeper form of exile. While an individual must learn to subordinate his or her own private interests to the needs of the community, one must also first have an individual identity which one can then subordinate and surrender. To be a nothing and a nobody leaves you without anything to contribute. Just as a pauper cannot contribute financially, so a spiritually impoverished individual has nothing to offer.

The role of the leaders of each of the tribes was to inspire each member of their tribe with the beauty and importance of the individual’s role and talent.

A person who lacks identity and personal achievement will be a depressed person, just as a person who is entirely self-centered cannot be a truly happy person. True and complete joy derives from the combined realization of the unique importance of every individual in the scheme of Creation and , and the necessity for each of us to strive to surrender our egos to a higher cause.

The Three Pointers

To counter the effects of exile and thereby usher in the Age of Redemption we must be mindful of three objectives:

We must not allow ourselves to be constrained by conventional thought processes. We must—through Torah study, especially the teachings of the Torah concerning Moshiach and Redemption—endeavor to reorient the way we see the entire world. We must gain a view from on high; a panoramic view of all of existence. That bird’s eye view, in and of itself, is a redemptive experience, because we are free from seeing things narrowly and myopically. It is therefore the means through which we introduce the energies of Moshiach. This is Moses’ contribution in the census.

We must also incorporate the “Aaron doctrine” of igniting the spark and passion of our souls and of the souls of each and every Jew with whom we have contact. Unity in and of itself—a product of Aaron’s inspiration—is a precursor and catalyst for Redemption. In addition, Aaron’s lighting of our souls will liberate them from their imprisonment in the desensitized environment of both the external and internal forms of exile.

Leader of the Tribes’ Dynamic

We must also liberate our own individual talents that distinguish us from everyone else, with the proviso, of course, that it does not lead to an inflated ego and a divisive mindset. Succeeding in this “leader of the tribes census dynamic” enables us to liberate that unique purpose for which we, as individuals, were sent into this world.

Torah: Water, Fire and Desert

The Midrash, commenting on this week’s parsha that highlights the desert, discusses the three salient characteristics associated with the giving of Torah.

“The Torah was given with (or in) three items: water, fire and in the desert.”

It may be suggested that these three components of Torah correspond to the three census takers. Moses, the Torah tells us, was “brought out of the water.” For that reason Pharaoh’s daughter named him Moshe. And just as water flows downward, so did Moses bring us G‑d’s wisdom from on high down to our world. And just as water symbolizes humility—for it flows down to lower places—so too was Moses the most humble person on the face of the earth.

Aaron lit the menorah. Aaron is associated with the love, passion and fire. Aaron succeeded in inspiring us to rise to higher places, as fire flickers upwards.

The desert, as the Midrash observes, belongs to no one. It is hefker, free for all. This implies that nobody can claim that the Torah belongs to one group of Jews or another. This reflects the contribution of the individual tribal leaders who connect their constituents as individuals with the Torah. Without these tribal leaders, the Jew might feel a connection to Torah as a part of a large impersonal and amorphous conglomeration rather than as an individual. The “desert” component of Torah underscores the relationship that every Jew has, as an individual, with the totality of Torah.

All of the Above!

Moshiach, as the ultimate leader who will liberate us from all aspects of exile, embodies all the three qualities of Moses, Aaron and the tribal leaders. Moshiach must be steeped in the Torah and indeed possesses the soul of Moses. Moshiach must also be the one to inspire the Jewish people and gather them together with feelings of love and unity; the role of Aaron. And Moshiach must also know how to cultivate the individual talents of every Jew and cherish his or her individual contribution. And, indeed, Moshiach’s greatest contribution is that he gets us to achieve all of these qualities.

Moshiach Matters

Everything has its limits, even darkness. As the Zohar says, "When the world was made, a limit was set how long it will function in confusion."
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