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    Why not the princes? – Sh’lach L’cha

    June 19th, 2022

    The return of the spies, by James Tissot

    Who were the spies? Every tribe was represented in the team of twelve, but it was not the tribal heads themselves who carried out the mission.

    Admittedly, each of the spies, according to the Torah narrative, was a nasi, a prince (Num. 13:2), but in this context the word “prince” does not necessarily mean “a man of royal lineage” but “a notable person”. The twelve were all possessed of national standing, personality and spiritual potential.

    How then could the majority bring back a pessimistic report?

    At that moment their spirituality deserted them. Otherwise they should all have recognised that if God was with them they could be certain that their mission would succeed.

    Nachmanides quotes Kohelet 8:5, “Whoever keeps the commandment shall know no evil thing”.


    Flying fringes – Sh’lach L’cha

    June 19th, 2022

    The final section of the sidra is the passage about fringes which we call the third paragraph of the Shema (Num. 15:37-41).

    The purpose of the fringes (tzitzit) is “that you may look at it and remember all the commandments of the Lord” (verse 39).

    The way the sages understood this verse was that the thread of blue which was originally part of the fringes (deriving from the chillazon, a sea creature which some authorities believe they are able to identify, enabling them to restore the thread of blue) suggests the water of the sea, and the sea suggests Heaven, in which is the locale of the Divine Throne of Glory.

    Thus the fringes are a reminder of the duty to look up to and obey the will of the God of Heaven and Earth.


    Praying all day – B’ha’alot’cha

    June 12th, 2022

    One of my less orthodox relatives is amused at one of our grandsons who sits and studies his Hebrew books all day. The relative whose views I am quoting thinks that my grandson spends his day praying.

    Actually this grandson does daven and say his prayers at the set periods three times a day but as a yeshivah student he spends a lot of time on Talmudic learning.

    All this links up with this week’s Torah portion in that the portion tells us that a person should constantly kindle lights in honour of God.

    One can take the idea literally but if you choose a metaphorical interpretation you will understand the mitzvah in an ethical sense as a command to fill the day with deeds of sharing and caring that bring extra light into the Almighty’s world.

    If every deed lights a candle in honour of God it makes the world a nicer place.


    The first born – B’ha’alot’cha

    June 12th, 2022

    The sidra says that every first-born belongs to God (Num. 8:17). The Torah does not say why this is so, but the sages all have their explanations.

    Rashi tells us that the concept is moral and logical (b’kav ha-din) because God saved the Israelite first-born from the tenth of the Ten Plagues (makkat b’chorot) in ancient Egypt and we are showing Him how grateful we are.

    In Sforno’s view, the idea is anthropological since every culture accords special honour to the first born of every family and indeed of every species.


    Aaron’s enthusiasm – B’ha’alot’cha

    June 12th, 2022

    Opening the sidra, the Torah pays tribute to Aaron the high priest (Num. 8:3) who meticulously carried out the requirement set out by the Almighty.

    Rashi quotes the Sifrei which says that it is a tribute to Aaron to know that he fulfilled God’s command without deviating from the smallest detail.

    Ramban says that Aaron had children to whom he could have delegated the task but he chose to carry out the mitzvah personally.

    Another possibility is that Aaron took every mitzvah seriously and performed it with energy and enthusiasm. This is the approach which is enshrined in the meditation which we say at the beginning of many of the practices of Judaism: Hin’ni muchan um’zumman, “Behold, I am ready and willing to perform the will of my Creator”.