23 Tamuz, 5761
July 13-14, '01
The following thought on this week's Torah Portion is deemed suitable for viewing by family audiences.
The Jewish People are counted up again in this week's parsha. We're getting used to this already. What's prompting this latest census? When G-d took the Jewish People out of Egypt and handed them over to Moshe's guidance and care, they were handed over as a set number of individuals. Now Moshe, the great shepherd, is close to death and returning G-d's flocks. He has to hand them back as a set number
(Rashi on Numbers 26:1, according to Midrash Tanchuma).
Like all censuses since, this count wasn't just to determine the grand total population (601,730; but who's counting?). Each tribe was counted individually. And in counting each tribe, an accounting is given of the principal families that comprised each tribe. These currently listed families are all descendents of the seventy family units of Yaakov's household who traveled down to exile in Egypt, 249 years previous.
I wouldn't dwell on the Torah's taking a census divided according to the Jewish families if the Torah itself didn't dwell on it. But it does. Big time. The Torah spends no less than 65 verses (all of Numbers Chapter 26) tracing the lineage of all the founding Jewish families, family by family. Look it over yourself and see…
Now, the Torah could have recorded the results of this census just listing the population of each tribe, without mentioning all the families by name. That would have
shaved a good ten minutes off the Torah reading in synagogue on Shabbos. Why does the Torah have to take all the time and trouble to list every Jewish family?
To understand why, we have to look at the forest through the trees. From this long list of family names in the Torah, we detect a profound value. We detect the value that the Torah places on families.
The family is the central unit of Jewish life. The link, like an iron chain, from generation to generation, carrying on a mission stretching back centuries; even millennia: the idea that there is more to our lives than just the here and now.
We are not living just for today. We are living because all of our ancestors struggled and sacrificed and never gave up, constantly striving to ensure the survival of the next generation. We all arrived in this world as part of a chain stretching way back, to our patriarchs and matriarchs. And we are endowed with the potential to connect to an infinite chain into the future.
Our connection to our past and our future is our family.
The family has kept Judaism alive for centuries of exile, through destroyed Temples and cities laid to waste. There were times when we didn't have shuls or schools or even houses, but the Jewish family always held the nation of G-d together, guarding its beliefs and mission.
I try to keep up with current events. I even pay attention to the reviews of the newest movies and novels and TV shows. Probably too much attention. I hear many people complaining about how the violence and obscenity portrayed through these venues are encouraging similar behavior in society at large. I don't know how much this is true.
But one thing is clear. The attitudes portrayed in these shows and books are becoming increasingly anti-family. Their focus is almost exclusively on the here and now. What can I get out of it today? Am I still young? Is my life exciting enough? Why can't I have that? Am I missing out on something?
These are questions that apply more to individuals than to families. They shine their focus on an individual alone, away from the family.
Our Torah is teaching us that the ultimate arena of fulfillment is in the family unit. This is such a vital lesson for us today! Our families are our tie to the world and every different type of experience in it. By connecting to our families, we are connecting to every stage in life. We are connecting to our past and our future.
And we are building our future. The Torah opens our eyes and shows us what's really important and what's only an illusion. The families-they are worthy of mention; they are worthy of our attention.
Insights Into Exodus
Insights Into Leviticus
Insights into Numbers
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