Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Built To Last While Years Roll Past Like Cloudscapes In The Sky (Robert Hunter & Jerry Garcia "Built to Last")

It seems that this has been a week of counting. It seems that this has been a week of counting down towards the end of one phase and the beginning of a new phase. Earlier this week, the TV show “Mad Men” counted down to its final episode.  The Dave Letterman Show has been counting as well. The final show, after more than 6000 shows is scheduled to end on Wednesday.  17000 was the number counted of those who marched in the Walk for Israel Parade here in Toronto.  18000 was the number in attendance for the Tribute to Jerry Garcia “Dear Jerry Concert” at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Maryland.  Two days were the number of days that the grandparents came to visit Toronto to see their grandchildren. 5 were the number of lectures my father gave to his grandchildren and they paid attention.  Yes, all this counting, counting of episodes, counting of shows, counting of supporters of Israel in Toronto, and Deadheads in Maryland, counting of Grandpa’s lectures to his grandchildren all had meaning beyond the numbers themselves. More interesting are the questions that these numbers and acknowledgment of the end of these phases pose. Will there be a noticeable influence in television and television writing as a result of “Mad Men”? More impressive than Dave Letterman’s run of over 6000 shows, is the influence that he had upon a generation of comedians, talk show hosts and our lexicon “Stupid Human Tricks” or “Top Ten” lists. More important that 17000 people marching to support Israel on a beautiful Victoria Day in Toronto is whether those 17000 can influence more people to publicly support Israel. More impressive than 18000 Deadheads attending a Jerry Garcia tribute concert is the influence that Jerry Garcia’s music had upon generations of musicians and whether his music can transcend time. More important that my father lecturing our children on various life issues is whether our children will learn from those talks with Grandpa and remember those lessons in order to lead good lives.
This Shabbat we begin the fourth book of the Torah, Sefer Bemidbar, by reading the first Parsha, Bemidbar. Literally meaning “In the Wilderness”, this fourth book of the Torah resumes the narrative format with B'nai Yisroel preparing to leave the foot of Mount Sinai. For the past year, B'nai Yisroel has essentially camped out at Har Sinai and listened to Moshe and Aharon teach all the laws found in VaYikrah (Leviticus) including Tamei/TahorPurity and Impurity, Kodesh – Holiness and Korbonot, sacrificial offerings. Prior to B'nai Yisroel’s embarking on the remainder of its journey a census is required. In fact, Parsha Bemidbar consists of three types of census. The first census counts all men over the age of twenty that come from all the tribes except for the Levites. This first census tells Moshe the size of the B’nai Yisroel’s army as it prepares to make its way into Eretz Canaan.  The second census focuses only upon the Levites. Since this tribes’ sole function is to operate and manage the Mishkan, ascertaining the number of workers in the Mishkan suggests the importance of the Mishkan to the everyday life of the B'nai Yisroel. The third census focuses upon the organizational placement of each tribe around the Mishkan while traveling. Each census has a function and the numbers revealed indicate a superficial sense of preparedness for the mission at hand, whether the size of the army or the size of the Priesthood, or population of each tribe.

After the tribes have been counted and their designated positions around the Ark of the Covenant had been determined; the census of the Levites is set to begin. However just prior to the taking of the Levite Census we read four odd psukim (verses) that begin Chapter 3. V’Eilah Toldot Aharon U’Moshe B’Yom Dibeir Adoshem Et Moshe B’Har Sinai – These are the offspring of Aaron and Moshe on the day Hashem spoke with Moshe at Mt. Sinai. V’’Eilah Shmot Bnai Aharon Habechor Nadav Avihu Elezar V’ItamarThese are the names of sons of Aaron, the firstborn Nadav, Avihu, Elazar and Itamar.  These were the names of the sons of Aaron, the anointed Kohanim whom he inaugurated to minister. Nadav and Avihu died before Hashem when they offered an alien fire before Hashem in the Wilderness of Sinai, and they had no children; but Elazar and Itamar ministered during the lifetime of Aaron, their father.  While there are legitimate questions that one could ask regarding the 3rd and 4th verse; the first two offer a valuable lesson regarding influence upon the next generation. Chapter 3 begins by preparing the reader to be reminded of Aaron and Moshe’s sons.  However the next verse only mentions Aaron’s sons. In fact, Moshe’s sons aren’t mentioned here. They won’t mention until the actual census of the Leviim and they will only be mentioned in the context of Moshe’s father Amram. Why does the Torah first tell us that “These are the sons of Aaron and Moshe”; and then just provide the names of Aaron’s sons names? Certainly Aaron is the biological father, why does the Torah suggest that Uncle Moshe is also a “Father” to Aaron’s sons? The Talmud in Tractate Sanhedrin 19b reminds us that for the past year, Moshe has been teaching Aaron’s son’s their priestly responsibilities. While two of Aaron’s son’s did not learn Moshe’s lesson’s particularly well (they died); two of Aaron’s son’s learned their lessons from Uncle Moshe very well. One of the boys will eventually succeed his father, and then his son, will learn and eventually succeed his father. Moshe, in a sense has become the spiritual father to his nephews. The Or HaChayim (Chayim ben Moshe Ibn Attar – 18th Century Talmudist and Kabbalist) goes a step further. At Sinai, Moshe became a spiritual father to Aaron’s sons since Aaron gave up any possibility of that designation after his role in the episode of the Golden Calf.

The implication is clear. Moshe not only was a father (biologically) to his sons, the grandsons of Amram. Moshe was a figurative father to his nephews and to all of B’nai Yisroel since Moshe taught Torah to the entire community. Over 600,000 received his teaching. As a result, Moshe was a spiritual father to all those preparing to leave Sinai and enter into Eretz Canaan.  More important than the number 600,000 is the fact that Torah continues to have a profound influence throughout the world for generations from Sinai until today. As a result, the actual census taking, the actual counting of the group is a fairly easy endeavor.  A father could have lots of children or very few children. However the influence that father had upon his children, the influence that the teacher had upon her students, the influence that the leader had upon his disciples becomes more important than just the numbers.   

Rav Yitz

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