Daily Israel Report

Judaism: Divrei Azriel: A Place for Every Jew

This week's Dvar Torah is by Moshe Schwartz. Divrei Azriel is edited by Yechezkel Gorelik & Yonoson Kenton.
Published: Friday, May 23, 2014 5:21 PM


שְׂאוּ, אֶת-רֹאשׁ כָּל-עֲדַת בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָם, לְבֵית אֲבֹתָם--בְּמִסְפַּר שֵׁמוֹת, כָּל-זָכָר לְגֻלְגְּלֹתָם.

"Take the sum of all the congregation of the children of Israel, by their families, by their fathers' houses, according to the number of names, every male, by their polls" (Bamidbar 1:2)

Beginning with the very first directive God gives to Moses in this sefer (volume) - to take a census of the people - the opening parsha of Sefer Bamidbar (Numbers) has many important lessons to teach us about the way the Jews, Bnei Yisrael, are ideally supposed to function as a nation and a people. This is understandable, because at this point in our history the sin of the spies, the meraglim, has not yet occurred and the Jewish people are intended to be entering, conquering, and settling the Land of Israel in a matter of days.

In the verse quoted above, Rav Hirsch comments on the words "kol adas bnei yisrael," (all the congregation of the sons of Israel) noting that "edah" denotes community and common cause. He notes that the verse immediately before (1:1) reads "וַיְדַבֵּר יְהוָה אֶל-מֹשֶׁה בְּמִדְבַּר סִינַי, בְּאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד" - Hashem spoke to Moses in the Sinai desert, in the Ohel Moed, emphasizing that this first counting is not undertaken for administrative, political, or economic reasons (because these spheres have no relevance in a desert environment, a nomadic existence).

"Sinai" and "ohel moed" clue us in to the fact that the census is undertaken in the service of Torah. Bnei Yisrael are counted because from now onward they are to encamp around the Torah (represented by the Mishkan) as its guardians and keepers. The Torah is to be their common cause, the uniting force behind the community.

מִבֶּן עֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה וָמַעְלָה, כָּל-יֹצֵא צָבָא בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל--תִּפְקְדוּ אֹתָם לְצִבְאֹתָם

"From twenty years old and upward, all that are able to go forth to war in Israel: you shall number them by their hosts" (Bamidbar 1:3)

One might think that this counting does serve a political purpose, because in the next verse we are told that only the men above the age of twenty are being counted and that this is the population that will go out to war.

Rav Hirsch, however, understands "tzava" not to mean "army" in the modern sense of the word. He translates "tzava" as "a multitude united for a communal service under the command of a higher authority." That higher authority, we can understand, is God. This formulation of the calling of the Jewish people is certainly applicable to our own lives. "Kol yotzei tzava b'yisrael" (all eligible to go out to war in Israel) teaches us that we are obligated to leave our private lives, if needed, to enlist in the service of the community.

On the other hand, those private lives - that singularity, individuality inherent in each person - are good, and we should recognize that. Within an edah there is room for individual independence. We learn this from the shevatim, tribes. In their blessings from Jacob and from Moses, and here in this parsha as seen in the degalim (flags) that serve as their emblems and in the arrangement of their encampment, the picture emerges of a diverse group with different and unique temperaments and talents.

Machane (the host of) Yehuda (Judah) represents all the basic functional aspects of a society. The three tribes together (Yehuda, Yissacher, Zevulun) represent the scepter and the law, agriculture and scholarship, commerce and literature. Reuven stands for compassion - to the point of being too weak to act. He is "pachaz k'mayim al tosar" (see Jacob's blessing to him, Bereshis (Genesis) 49:4).

Shimon and Gad, paired with the firstborn in the encampment he leads, are defenders and avengers. In Machane Dan we have Dan - representing cunning, Asher, representing the refinement of taste, and Naftali, representing eloquence. Machane Ephraim represents courage and strength.

With all these attributes we start to see the idea of a true diverse nation. And this is good, and celebrated in the Torah.

We see that within an edah there is room for independent tastes, movement, and thought, but also that this independence has to be based on the Torah. We haven't yet mentioned the tribe of Levi. Levi has a slightly different function in the collective purpose of the Jewish people.

It is known that they were not counted among the rest of Bnei Yisrael but in a separate counting. This census took stock of all Leviim from the age of one month. The entire life of a Levi is dedicated to community service, literally from the time they are an infant, while the Yisrael starts his duty only from the age of twenty. Furthermore, while Yisrael has to "get up" from his everyday life ("yotzei tzava"- go out to war) to attend the needs of the community, for the Levi it is written "kol bo l'tzava"- all who come to war (Bamidbar 4:3), all who come to work in the Mishkan, because they have already been appointed. They are already there.

The Leviim encamp directly around the Mishkan. They serve as a buffer between the Torah and Bnei Yisrael, guarding it from those who should not enter. Since today we have no Mishkan we can apply this concept in an ideological sense. If independence must be rooted in the Torah and what the Torah allows and accepts, we can appreciate that some kind of buffer or filter is needed for each one to sort out what can safely "enter" into the Torah mindset, and what may be antithetical to it.

For us, today, as long as one follows halakha, it doesn't make difference "what kind" of Jew you are. There are Litvaks, Sephardim, Hassidim, Misnagdim, Aggudistim, and different ethnic groups etc., etc. - so many different types of Jews. In modern times, there are also teachers, doctors, businessmen, kollel learners, plumbers. Every Jew, so long as his calling is for a higher purpose and he is doing what he does for the sake of God, is fine. Every single Jew has his own place, and there is nothing wrong with acknowledging that there is a place for everything within Judaism.

Moreover, individuality is essential to the functioning of the nation. Returning for a moment to the arrangement of the camps, Rav Hirsch learns an incredible idea from the camping about the critical role each shevet, tribe, plays in the development of the nation.

Machane Yehuda - the unequivocal leader of the Jewish people - marches first. Together, these tribes have all the functional necessities for a society. They are, however, missing some crucial direction that they are meant to learn from their fellow brothers.

They look to their right and see the trifecta of Machane Reuven, who by embodying compassion and defense teaches Yehuda how to fend off insults and attacks under the aegis of gentle mercy. They look to their left and see their refined, eloquent brothers of Machane Dan. Dan's camp represents the development of spirituality and creativity.

Yehuda learns to use these elements in his leadership as well. And finally, they look behind them and see Machane Ephraim, learning that one has to lead with strength and courage. Every aspect of the Jewish people's individuality is not only tolerated but in fact teaches their leader how to lead; their individuality plays a crucial role in the direction of the nation's leadership.

That's why verse 1:2 says "kol zachar," every single man. The whole community, and each and every single person, fulfills a purpose.

Of course, this must always be followed by the message of "im bechukosai telechu - im bechukosai timasu." Yes, for every Jew there is a place. But for every idea there is not a place in Judaism. Every Jew has a purpose in God's world. Every Jew can give us something. Not every secular cause serves the same purpose. There is a place to be Jewish and to be modern. There is a place to live within society. But at the same time we have to implement the buffer around the Torah and follow God's word.

The Pieceztner Rebbe writes in his introduction to Chovos HaTalmidim that there is no bad temperament for a Jew. Every single temperament has a positive outlook in Judaism and we just have to foster the good aspects of these personalities. When Rav Kook was lambasted for helping the secular, atheist Zionists to establish the foundation of the state, he responded that it was these same types of Jews who were the ones who sent us into exile, and they now were helping to bring us back. What a positive attitude! So our mission for secular Jews is to help them find their place within Torah-observant Judaism, of any of the different streams, because there is a place for everyone.

And the same message stands as mussar for us. Hating a Jew is against the Torah, hating someone for no reason is against the Torah. Going so far as to take specific actions like throwing rocks or yelling "Shabbos!" or even "just" showing contempt is not bringing anyone any closer to Torah. We have to remember that just as much as we can't lose sight of mitzvos bein adam l'makom, between man and G-d, we have to not lose sight of the fact that every Jew deserves their dignity and to be treated with respect. To do anything less is also against the Torah.