Parshiyot Bamidbar and Naso 5767
Part One: Bamidbar and Naso
The names of the tribal leaders change according to the situation. So we find that their names as stated at the beginning of the book of Bamidbar are not the same names they are called when they were sent as miraglim (spies) in parashat Shelach. It would be safe to assume that the Torah identifies them according to the particular situation in which they are involved, and intimates an inherent feature in the character of the tribe as manifested by the conduct of the leader, the pending future of the tribe, or some other essential element distinctive to that tribe. An example is Shlumiel ben Tzuree’shadei, head of the tribe of Shimon, as he is called in parshat Bamidbar. But he is called Zimree ben Saloo when he sins with the Midianite princess in parashat Pinchas.
Based on this, I wish to focus on the name Avidan ben Gid’oni, head of the tribe of Binyamin, who is called Palti ben Rafoo when he is one of the meraglim.
Let’s start with “Gid’oni”.
The shoresh (three letter root) of Gid’oni is gimel, dalet, ayin (gado) which serves as the shoresh of words referring to cutting off or amputation. This immediately brings to mind the excruciatingly sad episode of “pilegesh b’givah” (the concubine in the town of Geva, Shoftim [Judges] 21:6) where the word “nigda” is mentioned: The events which brought about the near extinction of the tribe of Binyamin were the results of sinful conduct of several people of the tribe of Binyamin, in the manner they treated the concubine of a man who was spending the night in the town of Geva. The refusal of the tribe of Binyamin to try the transgressors ignited a civil war, at the end of which there remained only 600 men of the tribe of Binyamin.
When the sad reality of the situation became apparent, the people of Yisrael expressed their great hurt in the near eradication of a tribe, using the word “nigda” – cut off, amputated, “And the children of Yisrael took pity on (the tribe of) Binyamin and said, “On this day a tribe in Yisrael has been cut off”.
So the name Gid’oni was a– remez (hint) of what would transpire to this luckless tribe.
The name Avidan (ben Gid’oni) means the father, or superior of Dan.
Binyamin, the son of Ya’akov, was blessed with the most sons of any of the brothers – ten. In contrast, Dan had only one son, Chushim, who was handicapped by deafness.
We can imagine that when the extended family would get together, the feeling was that Binyamin, as the largest family, would evolve demographical into the largest tribe, whereas Dan would be marginal in number and importance. However, when the numbers came in after the census in parashat Bamidbar, the tribe of Dan had nearly twice as many people as the tribe of Binyamin. What began as Avidan – the superior of Dan, turned out to be numerically quite inferior.
In addition to Binyamin’s disappointing numbers and the tragedy of the near decimation of his tribe at the episode of “pilegesh be’Giva”, Binyamin began his life with the death of his mother, Rachel.
Now why was Binyamin fated to experience so much more grief and sorrow than his brothers?
I would suggest:
Binyamin was the closest of all the brothers to Hashem. He was the only one of the tribal heads born in Eretz Yisrael. And prior to the building of the Bet Hamikdash, the Mishkan was situated in the area of Binyamin for 400 years, in Shilo, Nov and Giv’on. In addition, the major elements of the Bet Hamikdash; three sides of the mizbeach (altar) and the actual building of the Mikdash – the Kodesh and Kodesh Kedoshim – were all in the area of Binyamin.
It is the intimate relationship between Hashem and those who are permitted into the “Palace of the King” which accords them to be perceived and judged according to a higher standard of conduct. When the two sons of Aharon, Nadav and Avihu, perished while serving in the Mishkan, Moshe comforts his brother by saying, “Be’kro’vei e’kadesh” – My name is sanctified through those who are closest to me”.
To qualify as one through whom the Creator makes His will known in the world, places huge demands of self sacrifice and unquestioning love. Binyamin, being born in Eretz Hakodesh and possessing these qualities, paid dearly for being the torchbearer of Hashem.
We today in Eretz Yisrael are the “merkava” (the mystical chariot) which bears Hashem’s presence in this lowly world. It is through us who fight, and build and lay the groundwork for the coming Geula that His name is now known the world over through the miracles He has brought upon His people in Eretz Yisrael. In Chutz La’aretz life is “more relaxed”. When one has a son in Chutz La’aretz, the parents can reasonably expect to send him to yeshiva and university, bring him to the chuppah, and eventually have nachat from the grandchildren.
In Eretz Yisrael one thing is nearly certain: at the age of seventeen he will receive his first notice to appear at the army induction center. Career, marriage, setting up a home, are all pushed to the “back burner”; for the top priority in our lives is the security of our nation in Eretz Yisrael.
Soldiers fall and families are ripped apart. The spirit of Binyamin hovers over the country. You want to enter the Palace of the King? It costs! But the eventual returns are beyond the grasp of human comprehension.
Binyamin, born in Eretz Yisrael, paid the price. But in the end, the Bet Hamikdash, the stairway to heaven, was situated in his midst and will again be for all time. As it will be also with those Children of Israel, who, are in our time permitted by Hashem to enter into the Palace of the King.
Part Two: Yom Yerushalayim 5767
Our Jewish-Israeli consciousness is preoccupied this week with four matters. The weekly parsha; the holiday of Shavuot, Yom Yerushalayim, and the mess created by the governments of the USA and Israel when they drove away thousands of Jews from a God given area in Eretz Yisrael.
But as diverse as these issues may appear, they are essentially one. As a result of the misconduct of the bechorot (first born), who, with disregard of their elevated spiritual status, played a major role in the tragic episode of the Egel HaZahav (Golden Calf), Hashem decreed that their unique spirituality be revoked and transferred their sanctity to the tribe of Levi, which in the two parshiot, Bamidbar and Naso, was set aside from the rest of the nation, as a “Chosen People” within a “Chosen People”.
There were 22,000 adult males in the tribe of Levi, while the bechorot numbered 22,273. This created a situation where 273 bechorot would be without a Levi to implement the removal of their sanctity. Moshe was then directed by Hashem to have the 273 additional bechorot perform the act of pidyon haben (redeeming of the first born) through the payment of 5 selayim to a kohen, as we do today.
Rashi quotes a midrash which tells of the dilemma Moshe faced. 22,000 bechorot would have Levi’im to perform their transfer, but 273 would have to pay. Moshe feared that every first born who would be directed to pay would refuse on the grounds that he wanted to be among the bechorot who are paired off with a Levi, not amongst those who would have to pay. Moshe then prepared 22,000 lottery slips which had on them the word “Levi”, and 273 which had “five selayim” on them, thereby solving the matter of how each bechor was going to have his sanctity removed.
I have performed many pidyon haben ceremonies, and never has a father complained that the cost was too high. The value today is around 250 Israel shekels ($62). Furthermore, the Jews who left Egypt were enormously wealthy; so why did it disturb any bechor that he had to pay 5 selayim to complete the command of Hashem?
But, in fact, the matter is very deep and intense; it was a question of survival. The sanctity of the bechor who was paired with a Levi did not dissipate and vanish. It was transferred to the Levi. It can be compared to one who donates an organ, which although no longer is part of his body is alive in another body, with all the distinct DNA features of the donor.
This is in contrast to the bechor whose sanctity “evaporates” into nothingness by the act of redemption, by paying. Now, as chazal informed us, the bechorot are destined to regain their sanctity, but it will return only through the Levi “host” and his descendants. Hence it is a matter of “to be or not to be” for each bechor.
“Survival” is the theme of the other three issues with which we are engaged today: Yom Yerushalayim, Shavuot and the retention of that small part of Eretz Yisrael now under our sovereignty. For 2000 years, Yerushalayim was a word; a dream; a Nirvanian, Utopian piece of heaven which Hashem placed here in lieu of Gan Eden. A place to be believed in but not to be lived in. It was a song to be sung at the end of the Pesach seder, always thinking of “next year”, but never daring to impose upon our rationality the possibility of “this year in Yerushalayim”.
“Im Eshkachech Yerushalayim” is sung at the most emotional time in a person’s life – under the chupa. The chatan shatters a glass, and all the assembled, in sub-conscious thought believe that just as this glass could never be put together by man, so too, will Yerushalayim remain in devastation until Hashem Himself rebuilds it, stone by stone.
And so it was for 2000 years. Until when the “chosen of Hashem”, David HaMelech’s soldiers, our beloved galant Israeli paratroopers, stormed the walls of Yerushalayim. And, while placing a flag designed after a talit with a Magen David in its center atop of the Temple Mount, proved to the world that the survival of the Jewish Nation is an indisputable law of nature.
Chag HaShavuot, which instantaneously transformed a loose association of tribes into a nation, unlike any other, under God’s personal, intimate, paternal ward. The heavens were pried open for all to see, each according to the essence of his or her soul. The Zohar states: “Kudsha breech hu , Oreita, Yisrael Chad Hu”. The Holy One Blessed Be He, the Torah and Israel are one entity. At the moment our ancestors (and we) heard at Sinai “Anochi Hashem E’lokecha” (I am the Lord your G-D), we were granted eternal existence. There is no greater promise of survival than “eternity”.
The fourth and final issue before us at this time is the Jewish nation’s claim to Eretz Yisrael in the face of those forces that would deprive us of our God given birthright. We have seen the ultimate sign of Jewish survival – the children. Hundreds of thousands, converging on Yerushalayim in the past few days. Draped in orange, capped in orange, with fire in their hearts for the love and devotion to the Torah and the resolve to achieve the absolute fulfillment and confirmation of what was promised to us by our prophets. Yeshayahu (chapter 49) says:
And Zion shall say God has abandoned me God has forgotten me. (and God will reply)
Can a woman forget her child, the son of her womb? These may forget yet will I never forget.
Behold I have graven you upon my palms, your walls are continually before me.
Your children make haste. Your destroyers and they who made you waste shall depart.
Raise your eyes (Zion) and behold, all (your children) have returned to you, says the Lord.
Then you (Zion) will say in your heart: “Who has begotten me all these. For I have been bereaved of my children and have been in solitude.
We have merited to see in Eretz Yisrael the beginning of the final chapter in Jewish history. We see the talmidei chachmim, Yerushalayim, har habayit, the soldiers, the children – the future. This is the chapter which will usher in the fulfillment of this prophesy of Yeshayahu and all the promises made to the people of Israel by Hashem through all His prophets.
Happy is the man who has been blessed to partake in the rebuilding of our people in our holy land.
Shabbat Shalom and Yom Yerushalayim Sameach, Nachman Kahana
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.