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Torah Sparks

June 16, 2001 - 5761

Prepared by Rabbi Randall J. Konigsburg
Temple Sinai, Hollywood, FL

Edited by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD
Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations

Annual Cycle: Num. 13:1-15:41; Hertz Chumash, p. 623
Triennial Cycle III: Num. 15:8-41; Hertz Chumash, p. 631
Haftarah: Joshua 2:1-24: Hertz Chumash, p. 635

(13:1-25) Moses sends 12 men, one from each tribe, to scout the land of Canaan, and to bring a report about the nature of the land and its inhabitants. After 40 days, the spies return bringing spectacular examples of Canaan's produce.

(13:26-14:10) Due to the report from ten spies that the inhabitants of the land are too powerful, the Israelites panic and rebel against Moses and Aaron, even to the point of wanting to return to Egypt! Joshua and Caleb plead with the people not to believe the negative spies' report and rebel against God. The people threaten to stone them.

(14:11-45) God threatens to destroy the people, but Moses intercedes. God relents, but decrees that this after 40 years of Joshua and Caleb. A group of Israelites test God's threat by trying to attack Canaan, and are repulsed by the Canaanites.

(15:1-7) Laws concerning sacrifices.

(15:8-31) Further laws on sacrifices; treatment of resident strangers; the law of challah, where a portion of the dough for bread is to be given to the priests. The required offering when a whole community sinned unintentionally.

(15:32-36) An incident of Shabbat violation for which the offender was put to death.

(15:37-41) The laws of tzitzit, the fringes at the corners of the garments, which are to remind us of God's commandments.

Theme 1: Choosing Judaism

Every citizen, when presenting an offering by fire of pleasing odor to the Lord, shall do so with them. (Numbers 15:13)

  1. At that moment a quarrel arose in regard to the offering between Israelites and converts. The Holy One asked Moses: Moses why are they quarreling with each other? Moses replied: Master of the Universe, you know - (they are quarreling as to whether converts who are not home-born are privileged to bring offerings for it says "every citizen"). Thereupon G-d declared: Did I not say to you "As for the congregation, there shall be one statute both for you and for the convert that sojourneth with you... as ye are, so shall the convert be before the Lord. One law and one ordinance shall be both for you, and for the convert that sojourneth with you (Num. 15:15-16)

    It has been said that there are three kinds of converts: a convert like our father Abraham; a convert like Hamor (in Genesis); and a convert who is still in every respect a heathen. How so? A convert of the third kind has in his house... (all kinds of foods forbidden to Jews)... to be sure he did say, "Isn't it time that I become converted and be among Jews whose food is wholesome, who have delicacies at their festivals and Sabbaths, so that I shall have no more vile food in my house? I will make myself become a convert." After a while, if this man returns to his habit of eating ...(forbidden food)..., the chastisements that come upon him will be for his own good, to preserve what merits he had gained...Another kind of convert is like Hamor. How so? If he seeks to wed a Jewish maiden and is told (by her kinsmen), we will not give her to you as a wife until you consent to be converted, (the Gentile replies) "I will make myself become a convert." After a while, if he returns to his habit of eating... (forbidden food)..., the chastisements that come upon him will be for his own good - to preserve what merit he had gained... Finally the third kind of convert is, in his own way, like our father Abraham. How so? He went about making inquiries among all the peoples, and when he heard them all speak of the excellence of Israel, he said, "Isn't it time that I become a convert, (be one of Israel) and enter under the wings of the Presence?" Of such a man it is said: "Neither let the alien, that hath joined himself to the Lord, speak, saying: the Lord will keep me apart from His people... for thus saith the Lord concerning those that hold fast by My covenant: I will give them in My hours and within My walls a monument and a name." (Isaiah 56:3-5) (Midrash Eliyahu Rabbah p.146; Tanna Debe Eliyyahu, p. 318-319)

Discussion Sparks:

How are we expected to view the convert, the "Jew by Choice", in Judaism? Are they held to a different legal standard? Are they "less Jewish" than the home-born? Why does it seem that some Jews still have a negative attitude toward converts? According to the Midrash, do motives for conversion matter?

Theme 2: Life on the Fringe

The Lord said to Moses as follows: Speak to the Israelite people and instruct them to make for themselves fringes on the corners of their garments throughout the ages; let them attach a cord of blue to the fringe at each corner. That shall be your fringes; look at it and recall all the commandments of the Lord and observe them, so that you do not follow your heart and eyes in your lustful urge. (Numbers 15:37-39)

  1. How do you know that the carrying out of one command leads to the carrying out of many others? You can find the answer for yourself. When the Israelites were in the wilderness, what is said of them? "They found a man gathering sticks upon the Sabbath day (Num. 15:32). The Holy One asked Moses, "Moses, why does this man profane the Sabbath?" Moses replied, "Master of the Universe, I don't know." G-d said, "On a weekday, there are tefillin on his head and on his arm, so that as he beholds them, he scrutinizes his actions. But today, (on the Sabbath) he does not put on tefillin, so he profanes the Sabbath (by gathering sticks)." Thereupon the Holy One said to Moses: Moses, go out and state clearly to Israel that there is a command they should carry out also on festivals and Sabbaths. And what is the command? The command concerning fringes. (Midrash Eliyahu Rabbah p.133; Tanna Debe Eliyyahu, p.287-288)

Discussion Sparks:

Why do we wear tzitzit? Why do some people wear it "hanging out"? For G-d? For ourselves? For others? Can you think of another Jewish religious symbol that has the same kind of an impact? How about a "kippah"? Is it important that there be some kind of symbol that is with us daily which reminds us of our commitment to Jewish religious values? Or is that an antiquated idea?

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