This Shabbos we begin reading from the Torah's fourth book, Bamidbar.
Bamidbar is also known as Sefer Hapekudim - the book of counting or the book
of numbers. Indeed, this week's Parsha (portion) deals almost exclusively
with the counting of the Jewish people, and it is this Parsha that is read
every year on the Shabbos before Shavuos, the holiday celebrating the
receiving of the Torah at Sinai.
The Shabbos prior to each of the festivals embodies the spirit and theme of
the upcoming holiday. The Shabbos before Yom Kippur is called Shabbos Shuva
(the Shabbos of Return). Even though repentance is not generally a primary
focus of Shabbos, the Shabbos between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, a time
when our concentration is returning to the path of G-d, finds itself shifted
toward the theme of the upcoming holiday. What about the inauguration of
Bamidbar is apropos to the forthcoming celebration of Shavuos? What is the
allusion in the Parsha to this holiday's theme?
Our sages teach that the letters of our national moniker are an acronym for
a fundamental lesson in national identity. The five Hebrew letters that
spell "Yisrael" represent "yesh shishim ribu osiyos latorah" - there are six
hundred thousand letters in the Torah. There is another important "600,000"
in Judaism: the census of Jews who accepted the Torah at Sinai, who are, in
fact, the original Klal YISRAEL. But what is the correlation between the
Jewish population and the letters of the Torah? What are our Sages trying to
When the Children of Israel encamped at Sinai, the Torah uses the singular
"vayichan" - "and HE camped" (Shemos/Exodus 19:2) - not the plural
"vayachanu" - "and they camped". Rashi quotes the famed comment of Mechilta:
they camped as one man with one heart, with a complete unity. The
aforementioned acronym of Yisrael teaches us that just as a Torah scroll
that is missing even one letter is completely invalid, similarly the Jewish
nation could not receive the Torah without this complete unity, as one
cohesive unit. Each individual is crucial for the nation as a whole, and if
even one individual is not included the entire nation is incomplete.
Thus we understand the juxtaposition of our Parsha to the holiday. G-d
instructed Moshe on a number of occasions to count the nation on a tribal
basis. A significant portion of the Torah is dedicated to the details of
these censes. With this the Torah emphasizes the importance of each
individual in the eyes of G-d. Only by appreciating each other, and
overlooking our differences, can we once again come together and truly
deserve to reacquire the Torah. Only then can we genuinely celebrate