Parsha Bamidbar May 27, 2006 Rabbi Moshe P. Weisblum
This week’s Torah portion will appeal to those who enjoy working with numbers. Statisticians, mathematicians, economists, accountants, pharmacists, even meteorologists, will find Bamidbar, the Book of numbers, particular fascinating.
I can think of no one whose life isn’t influenced by numbers. When we come into the world, the obstetrician takes our height, weight and gives up an apgar health score. We identify ourselves with a social security number. We memorize combinations to locks, telephone numbers, security codes and PIN numbers. The dates of important birthdays and anniversaries are etched in our brain. We set our alarm clocks to wake up at a certain hour. We check our calendars and schedule appointments. There are the ever increasing numbers on our phone schedule appointments. There are the ever increasing numbers on our phone bills, mortgage rates and, of course, school tuition. Even a popular movie, The DaVinci Code, claims to contain vast amounts of historical and biblical information based on symbols and equations devised by the artist. Our lives are governed by numbers. The recent newspaper headlines report two Enron chiefs were convicted for fraud and conspiracy, found guilty of manipulating numbers.
G-d also works with numbers. G-d created the world in 6 days, and then gave the world 7 Noahite laws. We all know that the 7th Day is for resting.
Now, listen carefully, there will be a math quiz given at the end of the sermon! On Shabbat, our tradition calls for the breaking of two chalilahs, two candles, eating three meals and thirty nine categories of forbidden work.
The Torah is filled with important numbers like the 10 commandments and the 613 mitzvot, including 248 positive ones and 365 negative ones. Echad mi yo-day-ah? Who knows "one?" One is our G-d in Heaven and Earth. The world is 5766 years old, marking the beginning of creation. G-d commanded Moses to lead the Jews out of Egypt when he was already 80 years old. The Exodus begin in the year 2448, exactly 3318 years ago, 49 days later, the Jews received the Torah on Mount Sinai, then wandered through the wilderness for the next 40 years until 2488, That is when Moses died at the age of 120 and Joshua entered the land of Israel. Joshua died in 2516 at the age of 110.
The Alef bet contains 22 letters and 5 final letters. Hebrew letters can be converted into numbers to assign words special numerical values. This study of numbers is called Gematria. For example, the word Chai is spelled Yud, Chet. 10 + 8, which is why 18 is associated with happiness and hope. Or, the word Ruth = 606 + 7 [Noahite laws] = 613 commandments.
Why is it important to know numbers? They enable us to analyze past patterns understand the present and predict future trends. We learn from history to anticipate our needs for tomorrow. There are certain key facts to help guide us in life, specifically in Torah. Psalm 90:12 reads, "Teach us to number our days that we may get us a heart of wisdom.
In Bamidbar, the book of Numbers, we learn why numbers count. Although estimates vary, today there are roughly about 14 million Jews in the world. We compromise less than 2% of the entire world population. There are an estimated six million Jews in the United States and five million in Israel. 90% of the world’s Jewish population lives between Tel Aviv (2.5 million) New York (2.1 million), Haifa (600,000), minus the one who is visiting here with us this week. Welcome Ima. Los Angeles (600,000), Jerusalem (600,000), and of course, Southeast Florida (500,000). There are less than 100,000 Jews in the Greater Baltimore area.
In Bamidbar, the story of the Jewish people’s wandering through the wilderness is detailed. We learn about the twelve spies, we learn about Yichus, lineage and genealogy stemming from twelve tribes of Jacob’s sons. There is now a museum in Israel, which houses a multitude of information through family histories and genealogical exploration we can also piece together our family roots. For example, in a computerized data who have been in limbo searching their past, especially those who were torn apart by the Holocaust, now have a way to reclaim their heritage and understand where they came from.
In the horrific tragedy of the Holocaust, six million Jewish souls were lost. Remembering this monumental event brought Oprah Winfrey to Auschwitz with Elie Weisel this past week. A special thanks to my dear colleague in Baltimore, Rabbi Wohlbers, who appeared in this program.
Yesterday, the 26th of May, the 28th of Iyar we celebrated Yom Yerushalayim to recall the battle of the six day war in 1967. By the end of the first day, Israel had nearly crushed the entire Egyptian and Jordanian forces and half the Syrian’s. In only three days, Israeli forces defeated Jordan. The solders were ordered to recapture the Old City of Jerusalem, at the Western Wall, Rabbi Shlomo Goren Z"L, a former member of the Haganah who later became the Chief Ashkenazie Rabbi, blew the Shofar to mark the Jews return to their historic capital. Israel suffered tremendous losses with close to 800 dead and twenty five hundred wounded. In the end, the old city was recaptured as well as control of the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula, the West Bank and the Golan Heights.
Ironically, in an attempt toward peace negotiations this past week, the new Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert arrived in Washington, DC to meet with President Bush. The two leaders also played the numbers game, including a financial aid package for Israel. In their discussion toward achieving peace with the Palestinians, one possible solution involved the withdrawal of 800,000 people from the West Bank. Evidently displacing 170,000 from the Gaza Strip was not enough. This move, this upheaval of Jewish occupation is of great significance to the entire world and bodes a very dangerous and serious situation for Klal Yisrael. As Israel’s control over her borders appear to waiver, the world must take the threats of the Iranian government and their affiliated terrorist organizations very seriously.
The Talmud says that "To save one life is as if you have saved the world", then to destroy one life is as if you have destroyed the world.
This Monday, May 29th, we celebrated Memorial Day and paid tribute to the fallen soldiers who have courageously given their life for American freedom. We honor their memories and may they rest in peace.
Finally, Sunday night, May 28th, begins Rosh Chodesh Sivan, the month known for receiving the Torah. We see that this is a month to think our statistics, our place in the world and the legacies we leave our children and grand children. The greatest gift we can present to our descendants doesn’t come wrapped in tissue paper and a bow. It is the gift of Torah which builds strong midot, fine character and values, traced through generations. That’s one making each day, each hour, each minute meaningful is so important. This week our family has been blessed to have my mother, Rebbetzin Weisblum visit for six special days. We are treasuring every minute with her. G-d is telling us in the parsha that we, his beloved children, the nation of Israel count and are beloved. Every mitzvah we do accumulate for good in this life and in the world to come. One mitzvah leads to another. May we add to the betterment of society.