Divrei Torah About Inclusion: Sefer Bamidbar
This Shabbat we read Parshat Bamidbar. Bamidbar means “the desert” however in English it is translated into “Numbers.” Indeed in this parsha Moshe is commanded to count Bnei Yisroel. Rabbi Sachs says that each person was counted individually (not as a group) to teach us the importance of each and every individual. It is to give each individual the confidence that he is important in the eyes of Hashem. Each person is unique and uses his specific talents to complete Bnei Yisroel as a nation. We learn that a person in not measured by Hashem by their personal accomplishment, rather by how they contribute to the whole.
Let us countand value the uniqueness of every individual that we come into contact withand remember that everyone shares in the responsibility of building the nation of Israel.
In Parshat Naso, we see two themes that we will talk about this week. First Hashem tells Moshe very specific tasks for each of the parts of the tribe of Levi: Kehat (in last week’s parsha), Gershon, and Merari. Each are given specific jobs and are not a complete unit unless everyone does his assigned task. Later in the parsha we learn that laws of a Nazir. A Nazir is a Jew who sets himself apart form Bnei Yisroel. He abstains from wine products, does not shave or cut his hair, and does not go near a dead person, even his father and his mother. Although the Torah tells us that a Nazir is holy, Kadosh, in Hashem’s eyes, it is frowned upon to become a Nazir. It is a difficult promise made by a person and the Torah cautions us to not set ourselves apart in this manner.
We learn two strong lessons about inclusion from this parsha. The first is that each person is important and has a specific task that by doing so completes the nation of Israel. The second is not to separate from the nation but to be part of the whole. Only that completes Klal Yisroel. As we go into Shabbat, let us remember our own specific tasks no matter what challenges we may have and strive to be one Klal Ysiroel.
This week’s parsha is Parshat Bahalotchah. We start the parsha with the laws of the menorah in the mishkan. The menorah consists of 7 branches connected together by its base. The Torah describes how it is made from one piece of gold. Not separate pieces. We can see how the Jewish people are reflected in the menorah. We are many different types of people, with many talents and purposes. Any many challenges. But when we all join together we overcome the challenges, use our talents, not act separately and form one base to establish Klal Yisroel.
Later in the parsha, it talks about Pesach Sheni. This is a time that the Jews who could not bring a Pesach sacrifice at the correct time were given a second chance to do the mitzvah. We can learn from this that just like Hashem, gives us a second chance, we should also be willing to give second chances to everyone we come into contact with. So let’s ensure that we remember to form one nation no matter what our branches are and never judge a person only by what they do the first time. Be willing to let everyone try again.
We also learn how Miriam speaks badly against Moshe’s wife. She is punished with tzarat (leprosy) and is sent out and secluded from the rest of Bnei Yisroel. While she is being punished, the rest of Bnei Yisroel wait for her for seven days before furthering their journey towards Israel. The nation can not move forward because they are incomplete without Miriam. This is true inclusion- every person is important for the klal and must be together in order to fulfill the nation. Only after she is re-included into the klal can Bnei Yisroel as a whole move forward in their journey.
This week’s parsha is Shlach. In the parsha we learn about the miraglim, the spies that Moshe sent to view Eretz Yiroel so that the nation could prepare for the conquering of the land. The spies first viewed the land in a positive manner but then changed their tune in front of Bnei Yisroel. They said that the land was full of giants, with giant crops to feed them. They warned of the dangerous enemy the Jews would soon encounter when they crossed over to Israel. All but Yehoshua and Calev. The reported that the land was rich and fertile and had many blessings from Hashem.
We can always look at things and people two ways- in a positive and in a negative manner. We can see the shortcomings and the benefits. The disabilities and the abilities. We need to learn from Yehoshua and Calev that we should view all things and people in a positive manner. This is what pleases Hashem.
Later in the parsha, the Torah speaks about the way the Tzitzit are made. We take strings and bind them together to form one bundle. We bind the regular strings with those made from techelet, a precious material. Likewise, we learn to take all the people in Klal Yisroel and form them into one group. The typical and the special. As we celebrate Shabbat, remember to look at the good in each person we encounter and to form one Klal Yisroel.
Parshat Korach begins with Korach, a cousin to Moshe and Aaron, leading a rebellion to take over the kehunah. Korach did not accept Hashem’s plan for Bnei Yisroel and wanted to usurp Moshe and Aharon’s authority. Korach was not a bad or evil person, but he got caught up in his own ego and thought he could be better than anyone else. He and his followers are punished by Hashem and we learn we are all equal in Hashem’s eyes. NO matter what we must accept Hashem’s decisions. Later we see Aharon take his staff, cane, which is very plain and ordinary. Hashem causes the staff to flower and become beautiful. This is how Hashem showed us that Aharon was the true learner of the kohanim. But we can learn another lesson from the flowering staff. Hashem showed us the inner beauty of what looked plain on the outside.
So too we need to look at all individuals and remember that there is a hidden beauty in each of us. We sometimes can see the flowers and sometimes we need to look inside to see the flowers. But there are always underlying flowers and beauty in each object that Hashem creates and in each person that Hashem creates.
In Parshat Chukat we are told that Hashem asks Moshe to go to the stone and speak to it in order for water to flow from it once again. Miriam has died and the water supply has stopped. This was the stone that supplied water to Bnei Yisroel in the desert through the merit of Miriam. Moshe goes to the stone and hits it with his stick instead of speaking to it. Moshe is punished by Hashem and is told that he will not enter Eretz Yisroel. Seems like a harsh punishment for hitting a stone.
But really Moshe is punished for not having enough faith in Hashem. He is told to speak to an inanimate object and Hashem would then bring his miracle or supplying the water. Moshe does not have faith that the power of speech is enough to bring Hashem’s miracle. We too need to realize that no matter what or who we encounter each thing and person has a potential that is given to them by Hashem. We need to have faith and be willing to seethe potential in each person and the brachot that Hashem has given each one of us.
In Parshat Balak, Bilam sets out along his journey to curse Bnei Yisroel. Bilam proceeds down the path that he chooses. But HaShem blocks the path and sets him on a different one. HaShem knows the correct path we must follow. We need to remember that HaShem has set this direction for each and every one of us. No one has a better direction or a more important purpose. We all have different directions and specific purposes.
We need to remember that HaShem does things for a reason. At times the path doesn’t make sense. At times we may not like the path. We may not understand why HaShem has set us in this direction. But we must have faith that HaShem and only HaShem leads us to the correct path despite the challenges we may face. Through belief in HaShem we can overcome any obstacles set before us. And each of us can find our correct place in klal Yisroel following HaShem and his mitzvoth.
In Parshat Pinchas, Pinchas appears to us as a violent individual. The parsha of balak ends with his act of running a spear through Zimri and Kosbie during the plague that inflicts Bnei Yisroel.
Although we can think of Pinchas as violent, we see that as a result of his action he is granted the Kahuna for himself and his future generations and HaShem ends the plague that has been destroying Bnei Yisroel.
We can learn from Pinchas that we should never take a person at face value. In the parsha we need to peel back the layers and only then we can see that indeed Pinchas was a man of peace. His action restored tranquility and peace to the Jewish people.
The rabbis teach “al tistakel bkankan Elah bema sheyesh bo.” Don’t look at the nest but what is inside it, or as we commonly say don’t judge a Book by its cover. We too need to peel back the layers of everyone we come into contact with and see the true value of the person. We need to see and judge the whole person not just a particular challenge they might have and only then can we truly see the individual value and Bracha that HaShem has given them. Once we do that we can be successful in including every person in klal Yisroel and value the gift each person brings to our community.
In Parshat Matos Masai we learn that Every tribe of Bnei Yisroel is commanded to select 1000 men and send them to conquer the land of Israel. Each tribe sends 1000, regardless of size of tribe. We know that some tribes were much bigger than others but they are Given the same number to Show that all tribes are equal in the eyes of HaShem. All have equal responsibility for klal Yisroel.
We can learn from this that every person is equal in the eyes of HaShem. No one bigger or better than the next person. Everyone has a purpose and we should regard the purpose as being equally important to HaShem, to klal Yisroel, and to us. Only once we see our neighbors and friends as equals can we go forward B’yachad.