BaMidbar: 1:1 - 4:20

This week we start reading from the fourth book of the Torah.  Known in English as Numbers, in Hebrew the name is BaMidbar, which means in the "wilderness".   Numbers is all about the many adventures the Israelites had while wandering for 40 years in the midbar.  The name Numbers comes from the fact that the opening chapters are filled with an exhausting census of the Israelites tribe by tribe.  But don't let this inauspicious start turn you off from reading more.  BaMidbar is probably the most entertaining of the five books.  It is chock full of drama, talking animals, sex and violence (but of course it is the Bible after all).  It also contains one of the great mysteries in the Bible.  I won't say much about this now (you have to wait until that parsha) except that a talmudic reference to this mystery suggests that it we should be calling the Torah the Seven Books of Moses.  Believe it or not, the Book of Numbers makes great summer reading.  Enjoy!!

Naso: 4:21-7:89

The lord spoke to Moses: Speak to Aaron and this sons: Thus shall you bless the people of Israel. Say to them:

May the Eternal bless you and protect you!
May the Eternal's face give light to you, and show you favor!
May the Eternal's face be lifted toward you, and bestow upon you peace! (6:22-26)

Interestingly enough, the priestly blessing bestowed upon all of Israel is written in the singular (in the Hebrew). Why? According to Rabbi Simhah Leib this is because the one of the most important blessing that we might hope for is unity. Divisiveness destroys any sense of peace (shalom) whether within a community, family or even an individual. The importance of unity is further hinted to because shalom also means complete/whole (shalem).

Beha'alotcha: 8:1 - 12:16

Now the man Moses was very humble, above all the people who were upon the face of the earth.  12:3

The Ba'al Shem Tov would say: "True humility is not what one displays on the outside but what one feels in his heart." Thus the story is told of a king who decided to be humble and modest. When his horses and carriage were prepared for him to go for a ride, he ordered that the empty carriage be sent ahead of, while he would walk behind it. A wise person present told him: "That is not true humility, because the truly humble person does not publicize his humility. Instead, he is humble while riding in his carriage."

Korah: 16:1 - 18:32

This week’s Torah portion is called Korah.  It describes a failed rebellion against the authority of Moses and Aaron led by Korah.  Korah challenges the authority of Moses and Aaron by saying, “you have gone too far!  For all the community are holy, all of them, and the Lord is their midst”.  Numbers 16: 3.  On the surface Korah’s challenge seems reasonable.  Shouldn’t everyone’s voice carry the same weight?  Are we not all equal in the eyes of God?

The answer to this question, and to Korah’s challenge to Moses and Aaron is an unequivocal yes and no.  Yes, all people are equal in the eyes of God.  Yes, all within the community of humanity are holy.  In this sense Korah is right in his challenge to Moses to Aaron.  But no, not everyone’s voice carries the same weight.  The voices of people who are experts or who are knowledgable in a certain field surely ought to carry more weight when it comes to decision making than the voices of those who are ill informed.  We all have opinions on most matters.  But that doesn’t make every opinion equally worthwhile.

People in positions of authority can’t be expected to be experts in every field. That’s why it is critical for leaders to have access to people who are at least knowledgable, if not expert, in the areas where decisions need to be rendered.  It is also important to recognize that leadership is a quality, not a position or title.  Simply being voted into a position does not make a leader.  Granted, it gives a person a modicum of authority.  However, authority is not a synonym for leadership.

© Copyright Rabbi Howard A Cohen