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Torah Sparks

BEMIDBAR
May 11, 2002 - 5762

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

Annual Cycle: Num. 1:1 - 4:20; Hertz, p. 568; Etz Hayim, p. 769
Triennial Cycle I:  Num. 1:1 - 1:54; Hertz, p. 568; Etz Hayim, p. 769
Haftarah:  I Samuel 20:18-42 (Mahar Hodesh); Hertz, p. 948; Etz Hayim, p. 1215

Torah Portion Summary

(Num. 1:1-47) God orders Moses and Aaron to take a census of the male Israelites of military age, 20 years and older. Along with their designated assistants from each tribe, they take the census; the grand total, except for the Levites, is 603,550.

(1:48-54) Special tasks of the Levites in caring for the Tabernacle.

(2:1-3:13) The organization, order, and physical layout of the camping and travel of the Israelites in the desert. The total enrollment of the Israelites, minus the Levites, is reiterated, and we learn of the special enrollment of the Levites, their tasks, and how they came to replace the first-born sons.

(3:14-39) The enrollment of the Levites from the age of one month and up, according to their respective clans, descended from Levi's sons Gershon, Kohath, and Merari.

(3:40-51) Census of first-born males; their replacement by the Levites.

(4:1-20) A second census of the Levites between the ages of 30 and 50, this time in order to determine the number needed for their tasks during the period of wilderness wandering. The Kohathites census and their appointment to the special task of carrying the holy vessels.

Discussion Theme: I'm a Jew and Darn Proud Of It

Take a census of the Israelite community (Numbers 1:2)

  1. "Take a census.." Literal translation is "lift the head." This rendering led Rabbi Menahem Nahum of Chernobyl to comment, "Let the Israelites hold their heads high in pride as they contemplate who their ancestors were."
  2. "Lift up (your) head" may suggest two interpretations. It may mean that the Jew must live his/her life with head erect. He/she must reflect the dignity and self-respect of a loyal member of the House of Israel. "Lift up (your) head" may also mean to exalt the mind, respect learning, and pursue knowledge. These two interpretations are intimately related. Knowledge of our faith and pride in our heritage are essentials for a rich and creative Jewish life. (R. Hillel E. Silverman, Rabbinical Assembly Homiletics Service, 1989)
  3. I am a Jew because my faith demands no abdication of the mind
    I am a Jew because my faith demands all the devotion of my heart
    I am a Jew because wherever there is suffering, the Jew weeps
    I am a Jew because whenever there is despair, the Jew hopes
    I am a Jew because our faiths's message is the oldest and the newest
    I am a Jew because the promise of our faith is a universal promise
    I am a Jew because for the Jew the world is not complete; people must complete it... (Abridged. Edmond Fleg, 1874 - 1963, France)
  4. When I was growing up as the only Jew in my high school, I discovered that I was representing all the Jewish people in everything I did. I was changed by that experience. I knew they would judge all the Jewish people by the few Jews they knew. (Eli N. Evans, The Lonely Days Were Sundays, Reflections of a Jewish Southerner, 1993)
  5. For our generation of Jews, this crisis generation doesn't attract us. It's all negative. I'm not going to be a Jew because six million Jews died in the Holocaust. I'm not going to be a Jew because Israel's threatened. (R. Neil Weinberg, in Embracing the Stranger,, Ellen Jaffe McClain, 1995)
  6. For too many years, we have expressed ourselves, not by learning Judaism and the pride that comes from that, but by writing checks for Israel and feeling pride in that country and its mighty army. We face extinction in the Diaspora, that's the real threat. (Edgar M. Bronfman, The Making of a Jew, 1996)
  7. I have no problem saying this; I've been doing it for thirty years. I am first and foremost a Jew, only then an Israeli. (Ariel Sharon, Jerusalem Post, November 3, 1995)
  8. In the 50's and 60's, we made people feel Jewish by talking about Israel and the Holocaust. In the 90's and the 21st century, we have to make people take Israel and the Holocaust seriously by teaching them to be serious Jews. (R. Harold S. Kushner, interview in 92nd Street Y Review, Winter, 1995)
  9. Jews were not put here just to fight anti-Semitism. (R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik)
  10. The paradigm today is no longer one of being, but of meaning; the question no longer how, but why: Why be a Jew? (Rabbi Rachel Cowan, The New Spirituality in Jewish Life, Cummings Foundation Annual Report 1994)

"Sparks" for Discussion:

It has been said that the two "hot button" issues which generate the strongest reaction among Jews today are: anti-Semitism and Israel. Even those Jews who are far removed from religion will react, at least viscerally, to openly virulent statements or acts in both of these areas.

But the question arises as to whether these two issues are influential enough or even valid enough in forging/fostering a positive Jewish identity in our time.

How do we develop a sense of Jewish pride for the next generation of Jews? Are you familiar with the "Israel Birthright Program"? It is a program especially geared to bringing college age youth over to Israel for an organized visit at no cost to them. What do you think about that approach? Can such a program have a truly tramsformative effect on young people - so much so that they return home deeply and permanently proud of being Jewish?

What else do you think could create a sense of Jewish pride and identity for today's younger generation of Jews?


 
 
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