Torah Fax

Friday, June 3, 2005 - 25 Iyar, 5765
Torah Reading: BeMidbar (Numbers 1:1 - 4:20)
Candle Lighting time: 8:04 PM
Shabbat ends: 9:14
Pirkei Avot: Chap. 5
Shabbat is 41 days of the Omer
United Nation?
This week, we begin reading the fourth Book of the Torah, the Book of Numbers. The book is so named because it begins with G‑d commanding Moses to count the Jewish people. It is noteworthy that, despite the fact that there was an express commandment to count the nation, G‑d told Moses not to make a direct head count. In an earlier Torah portion, the Jews were commanded to each donate a half-Shekel, and it was these coins that were to be counted. By counting the coins, the number of the Jewish people could be determined.
Our sages devoted much time to discussing this most unusual phenomenon. On the one hand, there was a need, a requirement, to count the Jews, but on the other hand, there was a prohibition with regard to making a direct head count. If G‑d wanted the Jews to be counted, why couldn't Moses count them directly?
To understand the dynamics of counting, Chassidic thought focuses on the ideal of Jewish unity.
Our sages teach that the entire Jewish nation is inherently one unified and inseparable entity. But this assertion needs to be clarified. One cannot claim that Jewish unity is based on political uniformity, cultural harmony, religious similarity or any other intellectual emotional or ideological factor. Indeed, it very hard to find anything that is common to all Jews. What is it that unifies us?
Throughout the majority of our history, Jews have not lived in the same country or spoken the same language. Concerning our differing views and opinions, the Talmud states that "just as there are no two people who look alike, there are no two people who think alike." Jewish fragmentation is so endemic to our existence that we often remark, half jokingly and half seriously, "two Jews, three opinions." How then can we say that we are the most united people, and that we are essentially one?
Some might point to the way we coalesce at times of crisis. Many will remember the Six Day War when Jews of all stripes banded together to show their support and solidarity for the Land Israel.
But don't these events seem to be the exception and not the norm? How can we justify the assertion of our sages that the Jewish people are one unified being if that quality only shows itself in the most trying of times?
The answer lies in the one thing each of us has at our core which is common and connected with our fellow Jews: our G‑dly soul. When we look at a person, we only see the most external and peripheral characteristics. Even after we get to know a person better and we find out about his or her mind, disposition and character - we still have not begun to appreciate the truly G‑dly dimension of that person's existence.
True, it is most difficult to observe a person's soul and G‑dly qualities, but that is because the soul is the most essential aspect of one's identity. Specifically because the G‑dly soul is our very essence, it manifests itself only on rare occasions, during the Six Day War, for example. Similarly, we have countless examples throughout our history of otherwise alienated Jews who gave their lives not to betray their Jewish identity. During those trying times, the true and most essential aspects of the Jewish person came to the fore.
Thus, while we may appear to be a most varied people, there is an intrinsic unity that pervades all of us. Indeed, it is sometimes taught that our differences are not necessarily a contradiction to our unity, but a manifestation of the infinite nature of the G‑dly soul, which can express itself in a large number of ways. For instance, the fact that there are Sephardic and Ashkenazic Jews, who eat different foods, pronounce Hebrew differently and have different customs does not show are dissimilarity, it shows that each of our souls has a different path and approach to connecting with G‑d. Each of our souls has to find its own unique connection to G‑d.
We can now understand why there was a need to count the Jews indirectly. When we count people, we emphasize the uniqueness of each person. Counting them directly, however, would have implied that their differences were inherent, that each person was a separate and distinct entity. G‑d therefore said to count the Jews indirectly. "True," He said, "each Jew has unique and individual qualities, but their underlying core is the same. The separate path for each individual soul leads to My service and therefore they are spiritually united."
Through appreciating the individual qualities of every Jew, while at the same time realizing that we are all one, we can merit to see the coming of Moshiach. At that time, the prophet says we will return the Israel as a "Kahal Gadol, a great, unified congregation." At the same time, however, we will be recognized as individuals with our own traits and qualities, as the prophet says, "V'Atem Teluktun Echad Echad, and you will be collected (to be brought to Israel for the redemption) one by one."
Moshiach Matters
The Messianic age represents the final fulfillment of G‑d's purpose in creation. It is a time when evil will be vanquished, and good will reign over all mankind. (Waters of Eden, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan)
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