Rabbi O’s /weekly Parsha: Bamidbar/Shavuos 5776-2016 You Count!

When the cycle for the weekly Torah readings was established centuries ago, this week’s Parsha was designated specifically to be read this Shabbos. The reading is from the first few chapters of the Torah’s forth book, Numbers and always proceeds the holiday of Shavuos. What connection is there between this week’s Parsha and Shavuos, the festival commemorating the giving of the Torah?
This question is addressed by Tosafot, the great medieval school of commentators on the Talmud. The Talmud says that last week’s Torah portion, Bechukotai, would have been an inappropriate introduction to Shavuos because it predicts curses that will befall the Jewish people if they stray from their Jewish roots. On Shavuot, judgment is passed on the bounty of trees and being that this judgement means so much to our wellbeing, we want to avoid any mention of potential misdeeds or their consequences. Thus, Bamidbar, this week’s Torah portion, serves as a buffer between the curses of Bechukotai and festive holiday of Shavuot.

An uplifting idea follows from this. Parshat Bamidbar opens with G-d’s charge to Moses to conduct a census of the Jewish people. The common word for “count” is not used, rather “uplift” is the term used. What does counting have to do with uplifting? G-d was sending a subliminal message to the people; everyone should feel uplifted by this count. The awareness that each person was counted meant that everyone was reckoned equally before G-d. This gave a heightened sense of meaning to each individual. “I am just as significant as anyone else” was the intimation of this divinely ordained census.

This concept brought home the idea that no matter how one regards himself or herself, G-d values his or her sincere service no less than the service of any other person who might outwardly seem to be his or her superior in spiritual accomplishments. Every mitzvah is precious before G-d; it does not matter who the practitioner is. Do not deceive yourself into thinking “I have made so many mistakes in life and am a failure as a Jew and a human being, what value do my mitzvos have?”

As the holiday of Shavuot approaches, we endeavor to prepare ourselves emotionally and spiritually to once again renew our commitment to the historic event at Sinai. This holiday give us the annual opportunity to once again ponder the depth and breadth of our Torah and appreciate the wisdom and values it imparts. The custom on Shavuos is to stay up all night learning and when we do it with tens or hundreds of other people simultaneously in the study hall, we marvel at the profound Talmudic discussions and the voluminous commentary on Torah matters that continues to be generated to this day. Then, shortly thereafter, the crushing reality sets in. Many will bemoan their elementary level of Torah corpus; its language, its intricacies, and one’s personal deficiencies of the knowledge and skills they possess. They will wonder if their efforts to draw and learn from this vast sea of knowledge will make a difference because, they mistakenly think, whatever they accomplish is a minute fraction of the totality of Judaism mastered. “Why pursue it at all or be involved with any of the mitzvos I am learning about if my contribution to it all is so miniscule? Can my seemingly insignificant accomplishments really make a difference to me or to the Jewish people?”

Therefore, in this week’s Parsha, Moses is told “se’u”, uplift them. We are to understand the critical truth that in G-d’s eyes we all have something special to offer. Each person has been gifted a unique soul-you are the only one to possess it-and its unlimited potential is available only to you. Every word of Torah you learn, every mitzvah you do, each act of kindness you perform is precious to G-d and can serve as a catalyst in the spiritual cosmos that has the ability affect the events of the world in which we live.

Every holiday has symbols except for Shavuos. Rosh Hashanah has the Shofar, Yom Kippur has fasting, Sukkos has the Sukkah, and Passover has Matzah, Chanukah has the Menorah, and Purim has the Megillah-but Shavuos is void of symbols. It is ironic that the festival representing the giving of the Torah has no symbols. One reason is because the Torah is so unique that no symbol can be associated with it. It is our endless reservoir that gives us tools to allow us to lead of life of maximum pleasure-yes, pleasure; physical and spiritual-and happiness in this world.

The holiday of Shavuos begins after Shabbat and lasts until Monday evening. Whether you are at home, shule or somewhere else, whether your level of observance is great, nil or even nothing, whether you think of yourself as a success or failure in life, rejoice with Jews all over the world and realize that you count because we are all counted. Rejoice in being Jewish and in the wellspring called Torah that is the source of it all.

Shabbat Shalom/Chag Samayach

(Sources: Megillah 31b; Drash Moshe; Collected Writing of Rabbi S. R. Hirsch v. 1 p. 183 )