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Census

Justice and Mercy Are Jewish Love

In this week’s Torah portion, NasoYHVH reminds Moses, “Speak to the Israelites: When men or women individually commit any wrong toward a fellow human being, thus breaking faith with the Eternal, and they realize their guilt, they shall confess the wrong that they have done. They shall make restitution in the principal amount and add one-fifth to it, giving it to the one who was wronged.” (Numbers 5:6-7). The instruction to admit wrongdoing and make restitution applies to those we like and those we don't like.

D'var Torah By: 
Personalizing the Commandments Is the Beginning of Change
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Steven H. Rau

Just as we are guided to look inward at this commandment to acknowledge and make restitution to someone we have wronged, so we should look inward with every commandment in the Torah. Every directive in the Torah may be thought of in the first person — as if it were written for us. Just as at the Passover seder we recite the words, “It is because of this that God did for me when I went out from Egypt,” so, too, can each commandment be read as it were directed to each one of us individually. 

Taking a Census to Ensure Success

B’midbar opens with a commandment to take a census. It appears straightforward: as our ancestors traveled towards the Promised Land, they would have military encounters. Moses needed to know the cold, hard numbers of who was eligible to serve in the defense forces. The text goes into great detail on how to count the men who could serve.

D'var Torah By: 
What Does It Mean to Count?
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Philip N. Bazeley

In Parashat B’midbar Moses is instructed to count the whole Israelite people, but just the men of fighting age, and not those from the tribe of Levi. While we may want to explain that away by reminding ourselves that the count was just for military purposes, let us instead consider what it might have been like for those who weren’t counted. 

A Concrete Relationship with God

In Parashat Ki Tisa, the Israelites wait for Moses to return from the mountaintop. Feeling insecure with a lack of leadership, they tell Aaron to create a Golden Calf.

D'var Torah By: 
Religion as a Way to Reach Holiness
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Jason Rosenberg

One of the lessons of Parashat Ki Tisa is that we need concrete reminders, symbols, of our fundamental ideas. But while we embrace them we have to remember that these symbols — whether they be physical, ritual, textual, or other — exist for us, not for God. 

Commissioning a New Leader on Inauguration Day

At this point in the Book of Numbers, we find Moses' term of service moving toward a conclusion and God begins planning for his succession. God tells Moses, "Single out Joshua son of Nun, an inspired individual, and lay your hand upon him. Have him stand before Eleazar the priest and before the whole community, and commission him in their sight. Invest him with some of your authority, so that the whole Israelite community may obey" (Numbers 27:18-20).

Hearing these instructions could not have been anything but painful for Moses. The leader of the Israelites for so long, how could he imagine anyone else in his place? And yet, they were perhaps comforting too. There would be no power vacuum. God would not let the progress of the last forty years fade away. The political transition would be a smooth one, free of upheaval and discord.

D'var Torah By: 
Transitioning to New Leadership with Full and Honest Disclosure
Davar Acher By: 
Michael E. Harvey

There is, indeed, great comfort in Nachmanides' interpretation of Moses' commissioning of Joshua. Certainly, as Rabbi Skloot explains, when we "see with our own eyes, that our leaders respect the basic institutions of government," tomorrow doesn't seem so scary. But in times like ours, times Rabbi Skloot acknowledges are, at the very least, "cynical," there may in fact be greater comfort found in Rashi's interpretation of Parashat Pinchas.

Learning How to Say “Sorry”

"It's not my fault!"

We've all said it. It's rarely easy to accept responsibility for the mistakes we make or damage we cause. Sometimes we know instantly we've done something wrong; sometimes it takes time for us to realize the extent of our mistake. But even after that realization, it's always painful to say, "I'm sorry."

D'var Torah By: 
The Silent Third Partner
Davar Acher By: 
Laura Novak Winer

In my teen years, during one of many moments of theological questioning, I asked my rabbi, "Do you believe in God?"

"Laura," he said. "God is, for me, that special connection, that sacred space that exists in the relationship between two individuals."

It seems that here in Naso, this is where God exists as well. "When men or women individually commit any wrong toward a fellow human being, thus breaking faith with the Eternal, and they realize their guilt . . . " (Numbers 5:6). When an individual commits a wrong against another, God too is harmed, experiencing a betrayal, a breach of faith.

Reduced to Numbers . . . Do We Count?

Were they people? Not to the Principal. Not even employees? They were more like digits, widgets, sprockets, more cogs on the command chain. (Joshua Cohen, The Book of Numbers, Oxford, 2014, p. 1.87)

Incredulous. That's how I felt, after requesting and then learning my Uber passenger rating. You see, drivers get to rate and rank you too.

"4.8! That's it?" I thought. "I've never been impolite or unfriendly. I never cancel a request after submitting one. What reason could there be for denying me a full five stars?"

Once again, here was one small example of the many ways each of us is reduced to numbers as we go about our post-modern lives.

D'var Torah By: 
Presence Is at the Heart of Community
Davar Acher By: 
Charlie Cytron Walker

Rabbi Skloot concludes, "We are all precious treasures, worthy of love and affection." This is true for us as individuals, and it is equally true when we are able to see ourselves as part of something larger than ourselves. In addition to teaching us that God loves each of us, the census in B'midbar serves another purpose. A plain reading of the text shows us that the census is not simply to count all the Israelites:

"Take a census of the whole Israelite company [of fighters] by the clans of its ancestral houses, listing the names, every male, head by head…from the age of twenty years up, all those in Israel who are able to bear arms" (Numbers 1:2-3).

Can You Really Ask God That?

This week's Torah portion, Ki Tisainterrupts the description of the building of the Tabernacle with a long narrative section that includes the story of the Golden Calf, the smashing of the Ten Commandments, the carving of the second set of tablets, and — although perhaps less famously — the most chutzpadik (impertinent) question in the whole Torah.

The question comes after Moses has negotiated twice with God on behalf of the Israelites: first, with moderate success, when he asks God to forgive the people for the sin of the idolatrous Golden Calf; and second, when he successfully convinces God to lead the Israelites along the next stage of their journey.

But Moses' next negotiation with God is not on behalf of the Israelites, but for himself. Out of the blue, it seems, just as God has acceded to his second request, Moses speaks up again. "Oh, let me behold Your Presence!" he says to God (Exodus 33:18).

D'var Torah By: 
Anger and the Voice of (Almost) Reason
Davar Acher By: 
Rachel Ackerman

The dance between Moses and God is always a complicated one, and Ki Tisa offers us no exception.

Just as Moses nears the end of his 40 days and nights atop Mount Sinai and finishing touches are being put on the tablets, God urges Moses to hurry down the mountain because God wants to be left alone to destroy the Israelites for having built the Golden Calf.

But Moses begs God not to destroy these people, telling God that doing so would bring into question God's motives in the first place and make God out to be evil. And God relents to Moses.

Five Women Whose Names We Should All Remember

The story of the daughters of Zelophehad (Numbers 27:1-11) has all of the earmarks of a Jane Austen novel: the disenfranchisement and injustices borne by women surrounding the question of inheritan

D'var Torah By: 
Biblical Change Agents
Davar Acher By: 
Jason Nevarez

I join Rabbi Kushner in celebrating these nashot chayil, "women of valor." They paved the way for future generations not only in gaining access to their inheritance, but also in bringing a

Determining the Qualities of an Ideal Political Leader

This week's parashah, Pinchas, is all about succession and inheritance. Who will succeed Aaron in the priesthood? To whom will the land pass as the Israelites enter it?

D'var Torah By: 
The Wrong Shepherd
Davar Acher By: 
Ruth Gais

This is one of my least favorite parashiyot. I have always disliked Pinchas's zealotry and, perhaps even more, God's approval of and reward for such zealotry.

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