Bamidbar 5772 – Gilayon #750


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Parshat Bamidbar – Chag Shavuot

He prepares a banquet for the righteous

(From Akadamoth)

 

Rabbah said in the name of R. Johanan:

The Holy One, blessed be He, will in time come to make a banquet for the righteous

from the flesh of Leviathan; for it is said: Companions will make a banquet of it.

'Kerah' must mean a banquet; for it is said: And he prepared

for them a great banquet and they ate and drank. 'Companions' must mean scholars,

for it is said: Thou that dwellest in the gardens, the

companions hearken for thy voice; cause me to hear it. The rest [of Leviathan] will

be distributed and sold out in the markets of Jerusalem; for it is said: They will part him

among the Kena'anim, and 'Kena'anim'

must mean merchants, for it is said: As for kena'an the

balances of deceit are in his hand, he loveth to oppress.

And if you wish you may infer it from the following: Whose merchants are princes,

whose traffickers are the honorable of the earth.

(Bavli, Bava

Batra 75a, Soncino translation)

 

In the world to come there is no body or corpse,

but only the souls of the righteous alone, without body, as like the administering

angels. And since there are no bodies, there is neither eating nor drinking nor

any other of the functions which the human needs in this world, nor anything which

happens to bodies in this world, such as sitting and standing and sleeping and death

and sadness and joy and so on. Thus said the sages of old: In the world to come

there is neither eating, nor drinking, nor cohabitation, only the righteous sitting,

crowns upon their heads, enjoying the light of the Holy Presence, so it is clear

to you that there is no body there, because there is no eating and drinking, and

the phrase "righteous sitting" is to be understood allegorically, meaning:

the righteous are found there without effort or exertion, and the phrase "crowns

upon their heads" refers to the knowledge which they accumulated which entitled

them to enter the world to come [and] is still with them, it is their crown, just

as Solomon said: "…the crown that his mother gave him…", and he also

said "and everlasting joy upon his head", and joy is not something corporeal

which can rest upon the head, thus the crown referred to by the sages here is knowledge.

What is the meaning of the phrase "enjoying the light of the Holy Presence"?

It is that they know and perceive the truth of the Holy One, Blessed Be He, something

they do not know [in this life], their being in the dark and lowly body…

And it [the bodiless soul's knowledge of the Holy

One] was allegorically designated by a number of terms: "The Mountain of God",

"The Place of His Holiness", "The Holy Path", "The Courts

of God", "The Pleasantness of God", "The Tent of God",

"The Hall of God", The "House of God", "the Gate of God".

And the Sages allegorically referred to that good which awaits the righteous as

"a banquet", and it is everywhere referred to as the World to Come.

(Maimonides, Yad HaChazakah, Laws of Repentance, Chapter 8)

 

The scroll of ruth – like an

accordian

Making melodies from the full and the empty

                                                                                                                                                                (Yehuda Amihai)

Gili Zivan

The Scroll of Ruth is, at first

blush, an enchanting idyll, beginning with the story of a family which – in a time

of crisis – leaves the sinking ship. In exile, however, misfortune strikes, and

the mother alone survives. The famine ends, and the lonely woman decides to return

to the Land of Israel. Surprisingly, her Moabite daughter-in-law

comes with her. The latter takes responsibility for sustenance, and wins the kindness

of a wealthy Bethlehemite who takes her and her mother-in-law

under his protective wing. The mother of the family returns to her old self, and

initiates a process which eventually leads to her daughter-in-law's marriage with

the well-to-do landowner. The entire town rejoices with them and blesses them; the

newborn son not only brings joy and comfort to his grand-mother; his grandson will

become King of Israel. The story is painted against a background of golden fields

of wheat, accompanied by words of blessings by the landowner ("God be with

you") and the greetings of the God-fearing harvesters ("May God bless you"). Displayed before us is

an bucolic familial idyll, serendipity and sweetness, rejoicing the readers' hearts.

The poet Yitzchak Shalev described the exceptional serenity

in his poem "Ruth":

Wailing and bitter weeping from the Latter Prophets

is still heard in Ramah

The organs from Psalms are sad, and those of the

Minor Prophets – silent

Even the sound of Job's scratching shard continues

to rasp –

And suddenly silence. Pleasantness.

 

Neither preacher nor reprover stand in the gate,

No one screams from the depth of his pain.

There is only the man greeting "The Lord

be with you!"

And they answer "May God bless you!"

And they glean, following the harvesters and dip

their bread and toast the kernels

If the gleaner is pretty enough

She can gather an ephah

of barley…

There is no priest to thrust into the cauldron

and no prophet to smite with the tongue.

Because the working people are all honest,

the farmer will lose no sleep at night

unless awoken by a woman

whose scent is the fragrance of the summer sweetness…

And the smell of the harvest,

and the aroma of the meadow…

The elders sit and the redeemer redeems.

God – grants fertility, The

neighboring women – give the child a name.

And as though no man had ever suffered

on earth and no man had shed his brother's blood, and Cain, Ahab and Job – had never

existed.

And as though the great Tanach has rested from the labors of its prophets and kings

and went down- as it were- to the Bethlehemite field to watch them harvest. And how Boaz begets

Oved,… and OvedYishai… and Yishai – David…

This, then, is the pastoral costume

in which our narrative cloaks itself. No tears of bitter weeping, no sounds of war

and calamity, no wrestling of prophets with a stiff-necked people. It is a low-key

family tale with a happy end.

But it is only costume. Beneath

the tranquility spread over the fields of barley and wheat lies a story of bereavement

and grief. Beneath all the rustic abundance we reveal a tale of alienation, loneliness,

rare courage and human relations which light up the darkness of fate.

The opening passages (Chap 1:1-5) describe the noose of choking loneliness and bereavement which grows tighter

around Naomi's neck. The woman is left without her husband, without her sons, alien,

stricken with bereavement and loss in a strange land, in a field not hers. One does

not need a rich imagination to describe Naomi's broken spirit; indeed she avows

repeatedly in this chapter that she feels cursed: speaking to Ruth and Orpah – "My lot is far more bitter than yours, for the

hand of the Lord has struck out against me" (1:12), and her reaction

to the excited neighbors upon her late return to Bethlehem – "Do not call me

Naomi [pleasantness], call me Mara [bitterness]. For Shaddai

has made my lot very bitter. I went away full, and the Lord brought me back empty.

How can you call me Naomi, when the Lord has dealt harshly with me, when Shaddai has brought misfortune upon me" (Ibid. 20-21)

A state of terrible emptiness envelopes

Naomi, and all she desires is return to her land, to gather

herself into the curse of her solitude and to die in the only land in which she

ever had a real home. As we peruse Chapter One, we see that most of the passages

are devoted to Naomi's attempts to convince Ruth and Orpah

to return to their people, to their birthplace. Why is this? Because

they have no real chance for rehabilitation in Bethlehem. Naomi's first and second attempts

are unsuccessful, and Naomi – feeling rejected and cursed – enlists all her rhetorical

talents to convince them to return "each woman to her mother's home" (Ibid.8).

Why does Naomi do all this? Certainly

nothing could bring her greater joy than the company of these two young ladies.

Her beloved daughters-in-law ask to accompany her and to support her on her final

journey and the embarrassed return to her birthplace. Surprisingly,

however, Naomi's reaction is quite different. Instead of embracing them and leaning

upon their generosity and their strength, Naomi chooses to send them off. She exploits

all her ability to convince them to leave her and begin life anew.

Naomi is concerned with their good,

not with her own. Naomi, who considers herself cursed "Full

did I leave, but God returns me empty" – has the ability not to drown herself

is self-pity, but to consider her daughters-in-law's future, to think about "the

others", this is the most moving human gesture in the scroll and it symbolizes

what is to come.

Naomi is concerned with her daughters-in-law,

but Ruth is concerned with Naomi's pain; she is not willing to forgo her love and

she arrives with her in Bethlehem,

and on the following day she goes out to glean among the sheaves. This is not to

be taken lightly. As a Moabite she is an alien without legal standing and without

defense, and she can anticipate the threat of molestation in the harvest fields.

But then Boaz, the landowner, comes to her aid; he decides to protect her from the

molesters, as he says "Behold I have ordered the youths not to touch you"

(2:9).

Ruth gleans with amazing assiduousness

and fills Naomi's emptiness, not only with pieces of bread, but also with portions

of concern and devotion. This fullness will, as it were, spill over and again she

will find herself thinking about "the other", about Ruth: "I will

seek a home for you where you may be happy" I3:1). And Ruth? After a night of sudden turns, after the hope for protection

and progeny approaches realization with Boaz's pledge "But if he does not want

to act as redeemer for you, I will do so myself, as the Lord lives" (Ibid. 3),

and after Boaz fills her kerchief with barley, she will look into her mother-in-law's

eyes and say: "He gave me these six measures of barley, saying to me, "Do

not go back to your mother-in-law empty-handed" (Ibid., 17).

Ruth's gifts are given to Naomi,

she whose total concern is for her, and visa versa. And therefore we are not surprised

to read this puzzling sentence: "And the woman neighbors gave him a name, saying,

"A son is born to Naomi!" (13). This is because the capacity for giving of our

short tale's heroines is so deep, that even Ruth considers her son to be a scion

of her mother-in-law, a successor of the woman whose thoughts were, in a time of

crisis and bereavement, directed to her and her sister in-law, a successor to the

woman who sought for her a "home" to guarantee her happiness. Ruth is

occupied not only with her own happiness and her love; she is occupied with refilling

Naomi's empty lap with a sweet tot who will "renew life" for her. She

is overflowing with giving.

What we have before us, then, is

not a saccharine idyll, but a story of two lost women who succeed in filling the

vacuum of their lives by giving to "the other", women who teach us the

secret of fulfillment even when all seems to be lost, as Amichai so beautifully writes:

And Naomi who said, I went away full, and the

Lord has brought me back empty,

Knew everything about the process of the empty

and the full

About her sons who died, about the sign of an

emptying womb,

Like an accordion that makes melodies from the

full and the empty.

The Scroll of Ruth tells us, as

it were, that great changes towards improvement of society begin with a small step

by each and every one of us. The ability to feel the pain of "the other",

male or female – is the beginning of social rejuvenation.

More than once do we react to the

injustices and the evil exposed in the media by sighing in despair and saying: "How

terrible, how low have we sunk…" and we switch channels…

The Scroll of Ruth tells us: Change begins with the little man. With me. With you. With us.

Dr. Gili Zivan

is the co-director of Yaakov Herzog Center,

and a researcher at the Center

of Contemporary Jewish Thought

in the Shalom Hartman Institute.

 

 

"Take a census of the whole Israelite

community by clans of its ancestral homes, listing the names, every male, head by

head."

(Bamidbar 1:2)

 

"The king said to Yoav,

his army commander, "Make the rounds of all the tribes of Israel, from Dan to Beer-Sheva, and take a census of the people,

so that I may know the size of the population."

(II Samuel, 24:2)

 

Did David Sin?

…In my opinion, David's sin demonstrates that he depended upon mortals

and the large size of the nation was the source of his confidence. However, it was

improper for him to trust in anything save in God alone. In addition, (as we explained

in the parasha of Ki Tissah)

the Torah commanded us to count people indirectly, by having each man give a certain

amount of money, and then counting the total sum collected, so that no plague may come upon them through

their being counted (Shemot 30:12).

(RaLBaG on II Samuel 24:1)

 

…It would seem from the chapter's (II Samuel 24) details that this census has a military

purpose, since Yoav, his army commander and the other officers were placed in charge of it, and only soldiers ready to draw the sword (24:9) were counted.

One might ask: The Torah never prohibited

people from taking active steps in the fight for survival – quite to the contrary,

it demands of people work, activity, assiduousness, and devotion of strength, energy

and spirit to the preservation of life and settlement of the world. The army which

defends its people and land from enemies are part of all this. In that case, what

was the RaLBaG's (and Abravanel)'s

point…?

The principle of the matter is this:

The army cannot serve as an instrument of self-aggrandizement or as a value in itself.

Rather, it is a means that is needed only when the necessity arises.

 (Prof. Nehamah Leibowits, z"l, Iyyunim be-Sefer Bamidbar, pg. 22)

 

"In that day, I will make a covenant

for them with the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the creeping things

of the ground; I will also banish bow, sword, and war from the land. Thus I will

let them lie down in safety. And I will espouse you forever: I will espouse you

with righteousness and justice, and with goodness and mercy, and I will espouse

you with faithfulness; then you shall be devoted to the Lord."

(Hosea 2:20-21, from the haftorah for parashat Bamidbar)

 

With righteousness and justice

which should guide your behavior.

And with goodness

and mercy – which you shall receive from me

in recognition of them [i.e., in recognition of your righteousness and justice]. It is written of our father Abraham: For I have singled him out, that he may instruct… to do what is just and right (Bereishit 18:19). In return, his sons were given goodness and mercy from God,

as it says, and [He] will show you compassion (Devarim 13:18)

and the Lord

your God will maintain for you the covenant and the goodness.

(Devarim 7:12).

 

Desist from the just and the right,

as it says, you who turn justice into

wormwood and hurl righteousness to the ground (Amos 5),

and God will withdraw his goodness and mercy, as it says, for I have withdrawn my favor from that people,

the goodness and the mercy (Jeremiah 16:5). And when you resume doing the just

and the right, as it says, Zion shall be saved by justice (Yeshayahu 1:27)

God will add goodness

and mercy to them, making a crown of the four of them [i.e., justice, righteousness,

goodness, and mercy] which He will place upon your head.

(Rashi, Hosea 2:21)

 

The Torah is Offered Freely to All

The Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness

of Sinai (Bamidbar 1:1)

– Why in the wilderness of Sinai? From here the Sages learned: The Torah

was given by way of three things; fire, water, and wilderness.

From whence do we know fire? Now Mount Sinai was all

in smoke (Shemot19:18).

And water? The heavens dripped, yea, the clouds dripped

water (Judges 5:4).

And wilderness?

The Lord spoke

to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai.

And why was it given by way of these

three things?

Because all of them are free to be

taken by everyone in the world. So too, the words of the Torah are free to be taken,

as it is said, "Ho, all that are

thirsty come for water" (Yeshayahu 55:1).

(Bamidbar Rabbah,

1)

 

Acceptance of the Torah is a Personal

Decision, Made "Not in Order to Receive a Reward"

…That is why Israel was not given the Torah immediately after the

splitting of the Red Sea, because if they

had received it after the splitting of the Red Sea, it would have looked as if they accepted the Torah in order to receive a reward, as a result of the great miracles

that had just been performed for them. That is why God waited a bit – meanwhile

they could partially forget the miracles performed for them, as it says, there was

no water for the community, and they complained. Afterwards, they received the Torah,

saying that they would "do it and hear it," which proves that they accepted

the Torah solely out of love for he Torah.

(From Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev's Kedushat Levi)

 

And the entire nation beholds the

sounds and torches and the sound of the shofar and the

smoking mountain and the people saw and moved and stood at a distance.

(Shemot 20:15)

 

The people saw but

could not comprehend the content of the words and their meaning, therefore immediately

after the great revelation comes the additional phrase: "…and the

people saw and moved and stood at a distance" – "it is possible to see

and to move, yet, despite it all – to stand at a distance.

(Rebbi Menachem Mendel of Kotsk – quoted

by Prof. Y. Leibowitz in "Conversations About Israel's Holydays and Festivals).

 

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