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Parshas Bamidbar / Shavuos - Klal Yisroel's Wedding Dance                          3 Sivan 5779

06/06/19 09:44:57


Living in San Diego, a comparatively small community, there are certain limitations regarding certain life-cycle celebratory events. As the old saying goes, “the only two things guaranteed in life are death and taxes”. The joyous occasions of Bris Milah, Pidyon HaBen, and Bar/Bat Mitzvahs do happen in all smaller communities, but weddings are the one event that don’t always take place here in San Diego. Weddings, by definition of terms, include two sides, meaning either the bride or the groom typically come from a different city. Today, with American Jewry spread out across the country, more often that not weddings of local people end up in distant locations more convenient for the families. Nevertheless, last week I not only attended one wedding, but two weddings - back -to-back - one in San Diego the next day the other in Los Angeles.

As I get older and attend weddings where I am older than more than three quarters of the attendees, I can focus and observe quite a bit regarding the individual aspects of the total wedding. There is singing at the Chosson’s tisch/table, followed by some dancing, escorting the groom to veil the bride, but nothing unique or especially exuberant. That outburst of unrestrained exuberance bursts forth when dancing at the arrival of the new couple as they enter the banquet hall for the first time as husband and wife. Jewish dancing is basic; it’s very circular. The men’s circles go around and round sometimes holding hands, putting hands on a fellow dancer’s shoulders, or just clapping. Next time you are at a wedding or simcha, take note of the formations of the circles breaking up and starting anew; look at the inner versus the outer circles. The inner circle starts off with the chosson and fathers, then reaches out to the grandfathers, siblings, relatives, and friends. The outer circles tend to be older people, guests who were invited from the ‘other’ side and people who are just not into or comfortable with dancing per se. An outside observer may think the only important circle is the one in the center with the guests of honor, or the inner circle of friends, and that the outer circle isn’t really doing anything. Each circle serves its own purpose. Ultimately, the outer circle lends support and protection to the inner circle; that inner circle does the same for the center circle. Similar to any army that has many divisions all of whom serve and support each other, no matter their position. There are a number of allegorical as well as real descriptions of things surrounding and supporting central figures.

A less well-known part of my youth occurred around the time of my Bar Mitzva. I was part of a boys’ choir. The lyrics from one of the songs on the album was “שיר המעלות הבוטחים ב"ה כהר ציון לא ימוט לעולם ישב. ירושלים הרים סביב לה וה" סביב לעמו מעתה ועד עולם”: “Those who trust in Hashem are as Mount Zion which cannot be moved but abides forever. Jerusalem is surrounded by mountains, and Hashem is round His people, from now and forever” (Tehillim 125:1,2). This verse reveals the symbolism that the relationship, or marriage, between Hashem and the Jewish people is eternal, like the rock-solid mountains surrounding the Temple Mount which elevated the Beis Hamikdash upon high.

Parshas Bamidbar is typically read prior to the Yom Tov of Shavuos. There are two places in the Torah that highlight the Jewish people surrounding something, in the desert around the Ohel Moed, the Tent of Meeting, and in Parshas Yisro when the Jews circled around Har Sinai preparing to receive the Torah, consequently coinciding with Shavuos. The Torah states in this week’s Parsha Bamidbar 2:2 “איש על דגלו באתת לבית אבותם יחנו בני ישראל מנגד סביב לאהל מועד יחנו.” “The Israelites shall camp with each person near the banner having his paternal family’s insignia. They shall camp at a specified distance around the Communion Tent.”

The Midrash Rabbah on this passuk tells us a great love did Hashem, Blessed is He, have for the Jewish people who made flags and banners just as the ministering angels made in Heaven so they could be recognized for whom they are. The Midrash quotes a verse that displays the love Hashem had for the Jewish people at this time. In Shir HaShirim 2:4 Shlomo HaMelech states:

הביאני אל בית היין ודגלו עלי אהבה”:He brought me to the chamber of wine (Torah delights) and my banner clustered my encampments about Him in love”. The house or chamber of wine refers to the Tent of Meeting. The Torah Temimah explains the Midrash that the house of wine refers to Sinai because the Torah was stored there in preparation for its giving from the time of creation, just as wine is stored in a cellar. Rashi explains the second half of the verse,”… and His banner upon me is love” refers the gathering of the tribes around the Tabernacle in the desert. That, in it of itself, was an act of love. The Vilna Gaon quoted in the Artscroll Shir Hashirim explains that the numerical value of יין - wine - is seventy, alluding to the seventy facets of Torah interpretation, which is an apt description that Har Sinai should be the ‘house’ of this revelation. The numerical value of ודגלו is forty-nine, which equals the forty-nine gates upon which the Torah can be expounded. The Gerrer Rebbe adds to this stating that the forty-nine of the banner hints to the forty-nine days of Sefirah, which is the time of preparation for receiving of the Torah on Shavuos morning.

Reb Aharon Kotler in Mishnas Reb Aharon explains that all areas of holiness and spirituality in serving God must have an order. The camping, traveling and the very design of the Jewish camp in the desert all had a particular order; everything, every aspect was intertwined and based upon each other. The extended explanation the Torah prescribes for the formation of each quadrant of tribes is special and unique; every tribe had its specific assigned location and prominence. The circles of the tribes formed the outer layer to the tribe of Levi; the innermost circle consisted of the Mishkan itself. On the passuk in Shmos 19 which describes the Jewish people camped around Har Sinai to receive the Torah, we became fused together as one one man with one heart. The Jewish people merited to receive the Torah because they respected each other - despite the positioning of where they were located.

When every soldier acknowledges his purpose and role and appreciates the other soldier’s purpose and role, then there is no jealousy between them, only love and support. The order of where everyone is in each given situation is important but only completed by the acknowledgment and acceptance of where they stand. So if you find yourself in the outer circle ,just schlepping along at a wedding, don’t think your presence and your participation is for naught. There is a real sense of belonging – and meaning - to the entire group dancing together to honor the groom – and for the women, to honor the bride. The Yom Tov of Shavuos comes to remind each one of us that we serve a purpose and an important role in the serving of Hashem. Whether you are the one making all the noise and excitement and receiving all the attention, or the quiet one going about his or her business, collectively we make up the total of Am Yisrael.

Sun, May 24 2020 1 Sivan 5780