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Parshas Bamidbar - Coffee, Torah & Shavuos   28 Iyar 5783

05/19/2023 09:07:33 AM


Parshas Bamidbar typically occurs the week before the Yom Tov of Shavuos, as is the case this year. Several commentaries connect Bamidbar, the desert, as the prime location for the giving of the Torah. Har Sinai was not the tallest or mightiest mountain; it stood  smaller and less imposing than most of the surrounding mountains, representing humility, a necessary ingredient for one to succeed in Torah studies. Additionally, the desert is an area of the world that is “ownerless,” reflecting the notion of how no one person can claim the Torah as uniquely his own; the Torah is available for all of us to embrace - so long as we are up and awake. The tradition to stay up all night learning is to metakein, to fix the error of our ancestors who overslept the morning of Kabbolas HaTorah on Shavuos. Therefore, to ensure we don’t oversleep, we simply do not go to bed. A tool many use to stay up and study both secular and Torah subjects is to ingest caffeine through drinking two main beverages: coffee, and coke.

Shavuos is a major two-day festival holiday commemorating the date when God gave us the Torah on Mount Sinai. Every year for over 3,000 years, we celebrate this beautiful holiday by renewing our deep commitment to and acceptance of the gift of our Torah from Hashem; every Shavous Hashem ‘relives’ this precious gift to us.  Even though Shavous is not equivalent to the typically accompanying American secular Memorial Day which commemorates and honors those who lost their lives defending the United States, Shavous does include saying Yizkor, a perfect time to honor our deceased loved ones.

 As the summer approaches I recall a story that took place with my friend Buddy. Over the course of many summers, Buddy and a few of his friends worked at a few kosher hotels in the Catskills, a region in upstate New York. diligently the owner, of blessed memory, worked diligently at saving money and more importantly squeezing out every possible value of anything and everything in sight (and out of sight, HINT). The waiters were each given five Sanka coffee packets to serve to the guests. The waiters had to retrieve the opened packets and return them to the owner who then gave each of the waiters five new packets to distribute. At first, the staff reasoned that the owner was afraid guests and or staff were taking the coffee packets out of the dining room for later use… or who knows what, perhaps to sell them? Lo and behold, one day my friend Buddy witnessed the owner slicing the open coffee packets completely down the side to get to the few granules remaining in the bottom and sides of each packet and brushing them into a jar. My friend didn’t dare say anything but remarked that by the end of the summer this hotel owner had filled an entire jar with the remnants of the grinds from those used packets coffee!

There is a famous  expression “Good to the Last Drop” – a phrase actually used by Theodore Roosevelt, later adopted by Maxwell House Coffee in 1917. In truth, every Jew knows why Maxwell House had such success. There is no question it is attributed to the advertising for Pesach as the most famous Haggada which became known as the ‘Maxwell House edition’ Haggadah. 

The successful marketing of the phrase “Good to the Last Drop” was to emphasize to the drinker that every drop of the coffee was just as tasty as the first drop.  Far more to the point, each and every ounce is equal to make up the whole. This overtly simple marketing technique is actually an incredible lesson for all of us. Each and every one of us together make up the essence of life striving to deepen and connect with each other in an ever-deepening commitment to growing in knowledge of Torah and Mitzvos. In this week’s parsha, Parshas Bamidbar, the Torah states in Bamidbar 1:2 "שאו את ראש כל עדת בני ישראל למשפחתם לבית אבתם, במספר שמות כל זכר לגלגלתם"  “Take a census of the entire Israelite community. [Do it] by families following the paternal line, according to the names of each male, taken individually”. The term שאו / census reflects a ‘raising up’, indicating the counting of the Jewish people was used to lift them up in importance. This was accomplished in two ways: First, the act of counting the Jewish people created a sense of unity among the individuals who were now part of a larger whole. The Alshich HaKadosh comments the Shechina/God’s presence is meant to rest upon the group and not an individual, hence the Shechina could not rest upon the Jewish people as we were no longer individuals, but rather part of something bigger. Second, the ability to mention God’s name could not be done by the individual.  During the counting every person had to clearly state his name and  declare his unique trait and specific talent. The individual counted was special in that he had the ability to tilt the world to be in a better place with his expertise. It is for this reason that even when the Jewish people are in a group, they still individually bring a half shekel. Why a half shekel? A half shekel was brought to show I am not a complete person without someone else emphasizing that even my small coin has the ability to tip the scales. It is interesting to note the name of the coin is “shekel” which itself means to weigh and balance the scales.  As important and powerful as we are as individuals, we are reminded that we are still only half the person each of us  can strive to become.   It is only with the continuation of counting from one to the next to the next that we create a powerful team, a people who together form a solid whole, overcoming individual weaknesses.

The Jewish people is not only counted. Rashi emphasizes that we are precious; Hashem counts us, His precious nation, again and again, while also clearly demonstrating the importance of each and every person. Without that ‘one’ we don’t have the other. The Jewish people have been brought together, growing from those small granules that Hashem lovingly picks up and removes from the cracks and dark places, bringing them to be counted among the rest of Am Yisrael.  As we conclude the final week of the Omer, we look back and see how the individual days made it into weeks. Every Jew is represented as an individual day while the weeks are the different groups of the Jewish people. As we culminate the Omer with seven full weeks, we count and bring all the individuals who together form part of a group, bringing  the groups together as we did at Har Sinai to receive the Torah כאיש אחד בלב אחד  as one man with one heart to our Father in Heaven.

Fri, July 19 2024 13 Tammuz 5784