The Generation of the Desert
The Book of Numbers opens with a description of the physical layout of the Israelite encampment at the foot of Mount Sinai. In the center stands the mishkan - the tabernacle - surrounded by the dwellings of the Levite families whose responsibility it is to tend to the tabernacle and its vessels. On the four sided perimeter of the encampment are the dwellings of the twelve tribes. Three tribes each encamp on each of the four sides: east, west, north and south. Side by side they dwell, each tribe bearing its own distinct standard. The nation is secure from enemies without, and facing toward the tabernacle and the shechinah - the presence of Hashem from within. The cloud of glory accompanies the Israelites. When it departs, the nation strikes their tents. When it draws nigh, the nation sets up camp. Even the heathen prophet Bilaam recognized the sanctity of the Israelite nation. He uttered these words which Jews repeat every day in the morning service: "How good are your tents, Yaakov; your dwelling-places, Yisrael." (Numbers 24:5) Our sages teach us that perched upon a mountain top, Bilaam was struck by the fact that the Israelite tents were staggered in such a manner as to ensure modesty: peering out one's own tent, one could never accidently look into another's.
A level of peace and tranquility has been attained that we today can only dream of and pray for. Yet, as the Book of Numbers unfolds we are witness to ever increasing turmoil within the camp. Envy and greed take hold of certain people. Power struggles and fighting break out. Finally, the entire well-being and destiny of the nation are in jeopardy as the spies bring back an evil report from the promised land. What went wrong? After all, this was the generation that traversed the Sea of Reeds! These were the people that stood at the foot of Mount Sinai and received Torah! These were the children of G-d who ate the manna - food, as it were, from G-d's own table!
The Torah is predicated on the understanding that man - the crown in G-d's creation, the apple of His eye - is only human, in the fullest sense of the word. As humans we make mistakes, we stumble. We are susceptible to fits of foolishness. We separate ourselves from G-d. We let ourselves down. Torah not only sets before us a way of living according to G-d's will, it also prescribes for us ways to extricate ourselves from our own self-laid snares and traps.
This week's Torah reading of Naso (Numbers 4:21-7:89) discusses the matter of the sota - the accused adulteress. This sensitive subject was discussed by Rabbi Chaim Richman at great length on this week's Temple Talk. Our listeners also took an active role in the teaching via the virtual studio. Many insights on many levels were revealed. Many "life lessons" were learned. The subject of the sota is not one which lends itself to the usual encapsulated format of our weekly newsletter. All who wish to learn more are invited to listen to Temple Talk.
Also discussed on Temple Talk were the laws of the nazir - the nazerite, as well as the priestly blessing, (an element of the daily Temple service that continues today), the silver trumpets, the golden menorah, and the copper laver, all of which are referred to in the Torah readings of Naso and Beha'alotcha.
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