A new book! In Hebrew, its name is Bamidbar, meaning “in the wilderness” [or, directly from the text, Bemidbar, “in the wilderness of” (Sinai)]. In English, it is called Numbers, and there are a lot, particularly this week.
It is now about 13 months since the Israelites left Egypt, and they are now getting ready to leave Sinai and go to the Promised Land. The Lord orders a detailed census of all men from each tribe aged 20 and up, except for the Levites, who will be counted later. Tribal leaders are named. Counting was a particularly big deal in the ancient world and was not done lightly. By singling someone out, you both recognize the individual and increase that person’s vulnerability. [It can also be very convenient, of course. When my choral group is getting ready to come on stage for a concert, each of us has a number determined by where we stand, and that tells us how to line up. I’m usually around 34.]
Further, the tribes are told how they will be arranged around the Tabernacle when encamped, three tribes on a side, which also dictates the order of march: first, the division of Judah (Judah, Issachar, Zebulun), 186,400; second, the division of Reuben (Reuben, Shimon, Gad), 151,450; third, the division of Ephraim (Ephraim, Manasseh, Benjamin), 108,100; and fourth, the division of Dan (Dan, Asher, Naphtali), 157,600. Total: 603,550.
I reread my comments of previous years when I write the current ones, and for this portion I saw, more than once, something along the lines of, “Gee, why are the tribes arranged that way? I should really look that up.” Well, this year, I did. I found some useful thoughts by R. Chizkiyah b. Manoach (aka the Chizkuni, 13th c. France) on the Sefaria website and in a d’var Torah by G. H. Cohen of Bar-Ilan University (“How Fair Are Your Tents, O Jacob”). First, the uneven numbers are reasonable militarily. You want your largest camp to go first and the second largest to fight off attacks on the rear. The two smaller camps can then be deployed on the sides.
The composition of the divisions can be explained by a combination of family rank and future potential. Judah became the natural leader of the sons of Jacob, and was also the ancestor of the future Davidic royal and Messianic line. That tribe was also the largest, so it went first. Now, consider the family ranking, excluding Levi: Leah’s sons, Reuben, Shimon, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun; Rachel’s sons, Joseph (father of Ephraim and Manasseh) and Benjamin; and the sons of the handmaids Zilpah and Bilhah, Gad, Dan, Asher, and Naphtali. One would expect the first division, Judah’s, to include the tribes of Reuben and Shimon. But it would be unseemly to make it so obvious that Reuben and Shimon were subservient to their younger brother Judah, so instead the next of Leah’s sons, Issachar and Zebulun, joined Judah. That left for the next division Leah’s remaining sons, Reuben (the eldest) and Shimon of, and they were joined by Gad, firstborn of Leah’s handmaid. The third division is made of Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin, the tribes descending from Rachel. The final division includes, Dan, Asher, and Naphtali the remaining tribes descended from the handmaids. Ta da!
The rest of the Torah portion includes the beginning of the census of the Levites by house, from one month old and up, and their assigned duties. The Levites will take the place of the first-born Israelites, who normally would have been expected to have “priestly” duties. However, there are fewer Levites at this juncture than first-born Israelites, so 5 shekels will be collected to redeem each “excess” first-born Israelite. That practice continues to this day in the redemption of a month-old, Israelite, first-born son (pidyon haben).
Next week, starting Tuesday night, we celebrate the third and final harvest holiday (first fruits, in Israel) of the Jewish calendar, Shavuot (literally, “weeks”), one day for Reform Jews, two for Orthodox and Conservative. We also celebrate the giving of the Ten Commandments, so we read Exodus 19:1-20:23 on the first day. We just read the second day’s reading on Pesach, Deut. 15:19 – 16:17 (holidays). Numbers 28:26-31 (sacrifices, of course) is read on both days. The first day Haftarah is the psychedelic one (yes, I’m dating myself), Ezekiel 1:1-28; 3:12; on the second day, it’s a song by Habakkuk (3:1-19 or 2:20-3:19).
Some Shavuot customs include all-night study sessions, decorating with flowers (we’ve got lots of roses, if they survive the rain storms), reading the Book of Ruth, Confirmation (less of this nowadays), chanting a lengthy 11th century liturgical poem called Akdamut at services, and eating dairy (blintzes, ice cream, cheesecake, yum). None of that is in the Torah. In fact, celebrating the giving of the Ten Commandments on Shavuot is nowhere in the Torah. Even the date of Shavuot is not clear, as I noted here recently. Today, we agree on the 6th of Sivan, 7 weeks (whence the holiday’s name, “weeks”) after the second day of Pesach. In any event, Shavuot is a nice, short, low-stress, aesthetically pleasing holiday. I will cut flowers and consume whatever yummy dairy dinner my husband is dreaming up.
Shabbat shalom and an early Chag Sameach,
A young woman greeted the census taker. ‘Good morning,’ said the caller,
‘I’m taking the census and I’d like to ask you a few questions.
‘Homemaker,’ replied the woman.
‘No,’ said the woman. ‘Dresses.’
Canada’s ‘enthusiasm’ for census brings down StatsCan website [excerpts]
#Census2016 trends across the country one week before Census Day
By John Bowman, CBC News Posted: May 03, 2016 9:39 AM ET Last Updated: May 04, 2016 12:50 PM ET
Idil Burale @IdilBurale Welcome back, evidence based policymaking tool.
One in four randomly selected households in Canada will receive the 36-page long-form questionnaire known as the National Household Survey. For the rest, the census is a mere 10 questions long.
Both versions of the census are mandatory. Failing to provide census information could result in a fine of up to $500, imprisonment of up to three months, or both.
For this reason, not everyone was so enthusiastic about filling out the questionnaire.
Statistics Canada confirmed Tuesday morning that the website was down for 45 minutes because of Canadians’ “enthusiasm” for the census.
[I love Canadians! IGP]
Math Holiday Calendar
Lame Shavuot Jokes To Keep You Occupied at 2AM (selected)
Here are a few really bad jokes from the bangitout.com clan to help keep you awake and amused throughout your Shavuot night of ‘learning’. Enjoy!
Why did the yeshiva boy ask about sex on Shavuot?
Accidentally read the ‘Book of Dr. Ruth’
What sports team is always favored to win on Shavuot?
What type of car should one drive on Shavuot?
What breakfast cereal is most popular on Shavuot?
Honey Bunches of ShavuOATS.
What game do teenagers play on Shavuot?
Truth or Dairy
What’s the name of the restaurant that Ruth and Naomi founded?
Where did the Jews eat after they got the 10 commandments?
The Golden Calfeteria
Jewish Ice Cream (Oldie but goodie)
Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream is now available in Israel in the following flavors:
Berry Pr’i Hagafen
It should be noted that all of these flavors come in either a cup or a Cohen…….