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Torah Sparks

June 13, 2009 – 21 Sivan 5769

Annual: Numbers 8:1 – 12:16 (Etz Hayim, p. 816; Hertz p. 606)
Triennial: Numbers 9:15 – 10:34 (Etz Hayim, p. 821; Hertz p. 609)
Haftarah: Zekhariah 2:14 – 4:7 (Etz Hayim, p. 837; Hertz p. 620)

Prepared by Rabbi Joyce Newmark
Teaneck, New Jersey

Torah Portion Summary

God tells Moses to instruct Aaron about lighting the menorah in the Tabernacle. He then tells Moses how he is to purify the Levites and consecrate them to serve in the sanctuary.

At the beginning of the second year following the Exodus, God tells Moses that the Israelites are to offer the Passover sacrifice on the fourteenth day of the month at twilight. Hearing this, some men who had contracted ritual impurity through contact with a corpse and could therefore not offer the sacrifice approach Moses and Aaron and ask if there is a way they too could participate. Moses brings their question to God, who says that anyone who is prevented from offering the sacrifice at its proper time for reasons of impurity or distance may do so one month later.

From the time the Tabernacle was set up it was covered by a cloud that appeared as a fire at night. This cloud would lift up to signal the Israelites to break camp and travel and rest over the Tabernacle when it was time to make camp, whether for a few days or a year.

God instructs Moses to have two silver trumpets made. These would be used to send messages to the Israelites, calling them to assemble or to march. In the future, once the Israelites were settled in their land, the trumpets were to be sounded during war and festivals.

Shortly after they set out from Sinai, the people begin complaining. God becomes angry and sends a fire into the camp. The lesson doesn’t take, for soon the people are complaining again, this time about the manna and all the wonderful things they used to eat in Egypt. Moses in turn complains to God, asking how he is supposed to lead the people by himself. God tells Moses to gather 70 elders and officers to whom God will give a share of Moses’ spirit so that they may assist him. Moses also is to tell the people that God will give them meat to eat, so much that it will sicken them. God brings huge amounts of quails but also a plague to punish the people for their ingratitude.

Miriam and Aaron speak against Moses, ostensibly because he had married a Cushite woman. However, their real issue is jealousy, for they believe they should be considered equal to Moses in prophecy. God tells them that Moses is unique and strikes Miriam with tzara’at. Moses prays for her healing.

1. Toot Your Own Horn

Have two silver trumpets made [literally, make for yourself]; make them of hammered work. They shall serve you to summon the community and to set the divisions in motion. (Numbers 10:2)

  1. Our rabbis taught: All the vessels that Moses made were suitable to be used by him and suitable to be used by subsequent generations. The trumpets were suitable to be used by him and forbidden for subsequent generations. Why? The Torah says, “Make for yourself” – for yourself and not for the generations. (Talmud Menahot 28a-b)
  2. This teaches us an important lesson about Jewish leadership. The message of Torah is unchanging and eternal... The leaders of each generation must discover the appropriate means to transmit this eternal message to the people. If contemporary leaders attempt to use a method employed by leaders of previous generations, the message may fall on deaf ears. While the type of blasts of the trumpets remain the same, the trumpets themselves must be new. Future generations may not use those of Moses. (Rabbi Yehezkel Abramsky, 1886- 1976, Russia, England, and Israel, cited in “The Torah Treasury,” Rabbi Moshe M. Lieber)

Sparks for Discussion

Do you agree with Rabbi Abramsky’s teaching, that the message of Torah is unchanging but each generation requires its own method of communicating that message? Take as an example the widespread acceptance of egalitarianism over the past few decades. Do you think this is a fundamental change in Judaism or is it a new way of communicating timeless truths? Why?

Think back over the years of your life – what Jewish ideas and practices do you remember that seem to have fallen by the wayside; what new ones have taken their place? Are there former “methods of transmission” that you miss? Which new methods do you find particularly appealing? What innovations do you imagine we will need to reach the next generation of Jews?

2. Do Not Cast Us Away in Old Age

They marched from the mountain of the Lord a distance of three days. The Ark of the Covenant of the Lord traveled in front of them on that three days’ journey to seek out a resting place for them. (Numbers 10:33)

  1. This is the ark that went out with them to war, and in it the broken pieces of the tablets lay; and it went before them a distance of three days to prepare for them a place of encampment. Rashi [Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki, 1040-1105, France])
  2. Rabbi Yehudah ben Lakish said, there were two arks, one that stayed in the camp and one that would go out with them to war, and in it were the fragments of the tablets [that Moses broke], and is said, “the ark of the Covenant of the Lord traveled,” and the one that was with them in the camp had in it a sefer Torah, as is written (Numbers 14:44), “Neither the Lord’s ark of the Covenant nor Moses stirred from the camp.” (Baraita d’Melechet HaMishkan, chapter 6, cited in “Torah Sheleimah,” Rabbi Menahem Mendel Kasher)
  3. Show respect to an old person who has forgotten his learning through no fault of his own, for we have learned that the fragments of the tablets were kept alongside the tablets in the ark of the Covenant. (Talmud Berakhot 8b)
  4. It is natural for old people to be despised by the general population when they can no longer function as they once did, but sit idle and have no purpose. The commandment “Honor your father and your mother” was given specifically for this situation. (Melekhet Mahshevet (Rabbi Gur Aryeh ha-Levi), 7th century)
  5. One whose father or mother has become demented should try to behave with them according to their mental state until He will have mercy on them [until they recover or die], and if it is impossible for him to bear because of their altered condition, he should go and leave them and appoint others to care for them as is fitting. (Shulhan Arukh, Yoreh De’ah 240:10 [Laws of Honoring One’s Father and Mother])

Sparks for Discussion

Some commentators teach that there were two arks, some that there was only one, but all agree that the broken fragments of the first set of tablets were placed in the ark. Why was this done? Why do you think the Talmud compares these fragments to an elderly person suffering from dementia?

As our population continues to age, the number of seniors in our families and communities will grow. Some of these people will remain active and engaged well into their eighties and beyond; others will slow down a bit and experience an occasional “senior moment.” And some, sadly, will develop Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. What do our communities owe to these “broken” elders? How can we support those who care for them? What does the Shulhan Arukh want us to understand about caring for elders suffering from dementia?

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