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Parshas Bamidbar/Shavuos - Solidarity with Am Yisrael 5 Sivan 5781

05/21/2021 11:02:59 AM


One of the many delights of my job is the variety of people and daily issues I deal with.  Without getting into any details, the diversity of topics faced by a pulpit Rabbi ranges from marriage to divorce, birth to death, from laws of mourning to issues addressing education, policy making, kashrus, eruv, family guidance (for those who seek it out), giving of classes, teaching, community concerns and needs, Israel, and so much more. On any day I may receive several questions in one area, such as marriage, or focus on a variety of matters running the entire gamut previously mentioned. In a nutshell, life is never boring. Moreover, it gives me the opportunity to connect with everyone in the community and to hone in on the halacha and proper way the Torah instructs us to lead our lives. It is fascinating and eye-opening to deal with individuals asking unique questions from their distinctive worlds.

Part of what gets me so excited and intrigued on so many multidimensional issues of my vocation is the complex interaction this daily weaving of individual specific needs and concerns generates, linking every segment of Jewish life and the Jewish people. Obviously, no two Jews are alike, and everyone is in a different place and position in life, be it older or younger, single or with a family, older or younger children, different stages of learning, diverse levels of observance, and ultimately, a distinctive charting of their Judaism. With over a quarter century in the Rabbinate, this process has given me the ability to deepen and nurture my own learning and growth. Through this process my views and understanding of people in general - and Jews in particular - have evolved and matured. One size really does not fit all;  the identical question asked by two people separately will often receive two different answers. Hopefully, each will receive the correct answer, and the proper decision for each of the petitioners will be dealt with accordingly.  

We live in troubled times; the Jewish people are now facing complex geopolitical and accompanying antisemitic challenges as we speak and as I type. The diversity among the Jewish people is great and complex, and we struggle daily to address and repair the differences between us. Most recently ,however, as demonstrated in Operation Guardian of the Walls and the Meron tragedy, Jews from all walks of life put their differences aside and bound together as brothers and sisters should. Unfortunately, it takes a calamity to remind us of how close we really are to each other. Deep down we know and appreciate the value of every Jew, of how much each one of us means to the other. This is recognized by the parsha of the week we just read and the upcoming Yom Tov of Shavuos.

In this week’s Parshas Bamidbar 1:1 the Torah states "וידבר ה' אל משה במדבר סיני באהל מועד, באחד לחודש השני בשנה השנית לצאתם מארץ מצרים לאמר"   “God spoke to Moshe in the Sinai Desert, in the Communion Tent on the first [day] of the second month in the year of the Exodus, saying:” On this verse Rashi gives us an insight on how the Jewish people should value each other. Rashi writes,”… because of their love before Him, He numbers them every time. When they went forth from Egypt, He numbered them, and when they fell because of the sin of the Golden calf, He numbered them so as to ascertain the number of those who remained. And when He came to cause the Divine Presence to abide among them, He numbered them. On the first day of Nissan, the Tabernacle was erected, and on the first of Iyar He numbered them.” It was the love Hashem has for His people that He counted the Jews a number of times. Now it is true that when a person counts something, the goal is to get to the total number, but this total cannot be reached without everyone. It is the Yachid, the individual, that is the most important component of this count.  Hashem, by counting repeatedly, is demonstrating the importance of the individual over the group.   

This all may sound so unique, but in truth it is not. The notion of ‘one-hood’ stands out in the upcoming yom tov of Shavuos.  Klal Yisrael readied itself to receive the Torah. The Torah was given not only to the Klal - the group - but also to the Prat -the individual. The Jewish people gathered at Har Sinai and the passuk in Shmos 19:2 describes the scene:"ויסעו מרפידים ויבאו מדבר סיני ויחנו במדבר, ויחן שם ישראל נגד ההר"   “They had departed from Rephidim and had arrived in the Sinai Desert, camping in the wilderness; Israel camped opposite the mountain”.  Despite the obvious, that the entire Jewish people were there gathered around the mountain, the Torah sneaks in the word encamped in the singular. Rashi’s famous explanation "כאיש אחד בלב אחד"  . The singular of vayichan is to be interpreted as one man with one heart. The heart does not necessarily mean the physical meaning of heart but rather the singular meaning of one mind set. Rashi concludes with, “but all the other encampments were with complaints and with strife”.

What does the ‘one mind set’ really mean? I would like to suggest “one mind set’ means we all think in the same terms; that while each of us is unique, we accept and respect each other for our differences. ‘One mind set’ does not mean we all must think the same way or even practice the same way. Practically speaking, how do we get to this realization that the mind set must be to respect and accept each other as a starting platform? The answer goes back to what I said earlier -  at times of trouble we forget our differences and appreciate our similarities. To accomplish depth of respect and commitment to each other, we need to strengthen and reinforce the ahava, the love for each other. We must move beyond mere lip service, we need to create settings where we see our fellow Jews not as distant or removed, different from ourselves, but rather as close to us, as our brothers and sisters.

The Yom Tov of Shavuos and Parshas Bamidbar could not come at a better time. The combination of recognizing the importance of every Jew, bringing each of them together under one banner, is essential to strengthen us as truly One People. Let us practice tolerance for our fellow Jew and unite in appreciating everyone’s individual contribution. There are numerous examples in the Torah describing how effective we are joining individual- to- individual to make up the Tzibbur.  Let us use the counting of every Jew and the Yom Tov of Shavuos to demonstrate and re-enact the time of Har Sinai. Let us stand together today under one banner just as Klal Yisrael did at the base of Har Sinai 3333 years ago.


Ah Gutten Shabbos & Ah Gutten Yom Tov

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky


Raising a Community, a Family and Ourselves along with Developing a Torah Personality can be purchased by clicking here via my author page at Mosaica Press.

Sun, September 25 2022 29 Elul 5782