Parasha for the Week: Bemidbar: Numbers 1:1 – 4:20.
Haftarah: Hosea 2:1 – 22.
Apostolic Writings: Acts 1:4 – 2:47.
The Book of Bemidbar — "In the desert" — begins with G-d commanding Moshe to take a census of all men over age twenty — old enough for service. The count reveals just over 600,000. The levi'im are counted separately later because their service will be unique. They will be responsible for transporting the Mishkan (sanctuary) and its furnishings and assembling them when the nation encamps.
The 12 Tribes of Israel, each with its banner, are arranged around the Mishkan.
Since Levi is singled out, the tribe of Yosef is split into two tribes, Ephraim and Menashe.
When the nation travels, they march in a formation similar to the way they camp.
A formal transfer is made between the first-born and the levi'im. The levi'im take over the role the first-born would have had serving in the Mishkan if not for the sin of the golden calf.
The transfer is made using all the 22,000 surveyed levi'im from one month old and up.
Only levi'im between 30 and 50 will work in the Mishkan.
The remaining first-born sons are redeemed with silver.
The sons of Levi are divided in three main families, Gershon, Kehat and Merari.
The family of Kehat carried the menorah, the table, the altar and the holy ark. Because of their utmost sanctity, the ark and the altar are covered only by Aharon and his sons, before the levi'im prepare them for travel.
“Bemidbar, A New Book”
The second book of the Torah, Shemot, (Exodus), was the first description of the birth of a nation, it was in the Sinai. In Egypt the children of Israel were composed of families and tribes, and their situation as slaves did not help them to be united as a nation. The experience of the Sinaî, The gift of the Torah to Israel, was a unique experience in History when a whole nation heard the voice of God. Israel became a national entity. The end of Exodus described the erection of the Mishkan, the sanctuary on the first day of the first month: “Now it happened during the first month of the second year, on the first day of the month, the Tabernacle was raised up.” (Exodus 40:17). Then Moses received the instructions necessary for the work of the sanctuary, and wrote all these instructions on the third book of the Torah, Vayikra (Leviticus) all the events related to this book lasted for one month, since when we open the fourth book, Bemidbar (Numbers), we found out that we are on the “on the first day of the second month in the second year from the Exodus” (Numbers 1:1). After erecting the Mishkan, it took one month to Moses to instruct Aharon and his sons about the service in the Sanctuary. Difference between all kinds of sacrifices, how to light properly the candelabra and the incense Altar (where Nadab and Abihu died), how to celebrate the feasts particularly Yom Kippur.
"The Narrative of Bemidbar"
For the people of Israel, the book of Bemidbar is perhaps one of the saddest book, so to speak, of all of the Holy Scriptures. Whereas the book of Shemot, which records for us the sin of the Golden Calf also gives us pause, it concludes with the final and glorious construction of the Mishkan and God’s Presence, so to speak, resting within the encampment of Israel. But the book of Bemidbar, which begins on a high note of numerical accomplishment and the seemingly imminent entry of Israel into he Land of Canaan, ends on a very sour note. It records the destruction of the entire generation including its leadership without their entrance into the Promised Land. (Rabbi Wein, Torah.org).
Rabbi Berel Wein continues, “The narrative of the book of Bemidbar tells us of rebellion and constant carping, military defeats and victories, false blessings, human prejudices and personal bias. But the Torah warned us in its very first chapters says through the census that “this is the book of human beings.” And all of the weaknesses exhibited by Israel in the desert of Sinai, as recorded for us in the book of Bemidbar, are definitely part of the usual human story and nature.” (Ibid.).
Thus, from now we go further with the nation of Israel, how they will be organized and all their travels from Sinai to Canaan, knowing that the journey had to last two years, but because of the last report from the spies sent to explore the country, they will be wondering in the desert for almost 40 years, and where most of the leaders of Israel will die, included Moses, Aaron, Myriam, only two among those who were over 20 years old at the Exodus will survive Caleb and the successor of Moses, Joshua, rewarding them for their confidence and faith in Hashem in the episode of the sending of explorer in the land.
"Bemidbar and Shavuot"
One more point should be underlined, Bemidbar is a parashah which is read every year just before Shavuot. On Shavuot, the people of Israel celebrate the gift of the Torah on Mount Sinai (Megillah 31b Tosafot). God’s giving of the Torah to Israel, is considered as a wedding Of Israel to God. It is interesting to notice that on the Shabbat before a wedding, the bridegroom is called to the Torah as a preparation for the wedding. So Bemidbar is, as it were, a preparation for that special union between God and his people which came upon their receiving the Torah, union which is compared to a wedding of Israel with her God. That is why Rashi says that the counting of Israel in the wilderness was token of God’s love for Israel. Rabbi Marozov says “Our sages explain that these counts were “to express God’s love for the people of Israel.” (Torah.org) This expression of love was especially important when only 40 days after receiving the Torah, they made and worshiped the Golden Calf. To express His great love for His people, Israel, even after all they did, God wanted them counted.”
Haftarah: Hosea 2:1 – 22
Chapter 2 of Hosea is a new vision, full of hope (Hosea 2:1). Even though the people of Israel will experience destruction and calamities, their number will not diminish but will increase. Even though in the first chapter the children were called “Lo-Ruchama” (no mercy) and “Lo-’Ammi” (not my people), here the children of Israel are called “Children of the living G-d.” Abarbarnel says that Lo-Ruchama referred to the kingdom of Israel, whereas Lo-’Ammi was addressed to the kingdom of Judah. Then a gathering together is predicted (Hosea 2:2). Today, Judah and Israel have not been together for centuries—the division of Israel into two kingdoms happened at the succession of King Solomon, and afterward they were always in conflict. The kingdom of Israel (the northern tribes) was deported to Assyria in the late 8th century before Yeshua, and the kingdom of Judah (the southern tribes) was deported to Babylon in the early 6th century before Yeshua. Since then, the prophesied gathering has not happened and the northern tribes was lost, assimilated among the nations. Only a portion of the southern tribes returned to the land of Israel in the late 6th century before Yeshua and built the second Temple. That is why the Chachamim (Sages) have interpreted this text as a messianic text. Radak affirms: “the final redemption will see all the tribes of both the kingdom of Judah and that of Israel restored in the land” (Roberts, 13); and Abarbanel says: “at the time of their redemption they will be united as one in perfect harmony” (Roberts, 13); and this is completed by Rashi who affirms: “They shall follow the leadership of the Messiah, the descendant of King David, and ascend from the land where they live in exile, to Eretz Israel.” The opposite of what is described in the first chapter is mentioned here (Hosea 2:3). ’Ammi means “My people” and Ruchama means “mercy.” They still will be “My people” says G-d, and they will again receive mercy, but there is still an unfaithful mother who should repent (Hosea 2:4). G-d is always ready to forgive, to exercise His mercy and His love for His people, but He is waiting for her to repent and to come back to Him and to the Torah, to the teaching of the prophets, and in fact to her Messiah. It is a holy task to exhort our people to give up sin and idolatry: if they refuse to repent, it is their own responsibility.
Israel went away from the Almighty and followed false prophets and idols (Hosea 2:7), and the following verses continue to describe her sin. But in verse 16 Hashem again takes the initiative to bring His people back to Him: “So then, I Myself will entice her, I will bring her into the wilderness and speak to her heart.” Bringing Israel to the wilderness is a remembrance of her youth, the time of the miracles, her first love with Hashem. Then follow the beautiful words, “I will give her back her vineyards from there and make the valley of Achor a door of hope.” (Hosea 2:17). Door of hope, Petach-Tikva, is today a city south of Tel Aviv. This should be a good sign for the people of Israel to think that maybe today we are at this Messianic time when the L-rd wants to gather with Ruchama (mercy) Ephraim (the church), with Judah (Israel) ’Ammi (my people), the two branches of G-d’s people who are destined to be gathered together.
Apostolic Writings: Acts 1:4 – 2:47
Parashat Bemidbar is read in connection with Shavuot. This celebration is a very special one for the Jewish people. They start the celebration of the feast of Shavuot, known as Pentecost in English with Torah Studies all the night. It is very interesting to read how the Apostolic Writings describe the first feast of Shavuot of the talmidim of Yeshua after he left them. It is written “When the day of Shavuot arrived, they were all together in one place.” (Acts 2:1). They were about 120 Jews, all together, that means they already had a sense of community of the ‘Adat. The link they had together was their adhesion to Judaism and to the Messiah of Israel They formed their own synagogue or kehilah, worshiping Hashem, celebrating Shavuot as every Jew who came to Jerusalem as pilgrim in order to obey the Torah. They did not expect anything special even though Yeshua said to them just before leaving them: (Acts 1:4–5), they really did not understand his words, they were still waiting for the Malchut Hashamayim (kingdom of Heaven) to come down in Jerusalem at any moment, that is why they asked him: ““Lord, are You restoring the kingdom to Israel at this time?” (Acts 1:6), they still had many things to learn, but Yeshua knew that they were not yet ready, he answered to them: “It is not your place to know the times or seasons which the Father has placed under His own control.” (Acts 1:7) and he promised them again: “But you will receive power when the Ruach ha-Kodesh has come upon you; and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and through all Judah, and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) Although they received these words from Yeshua, they did not know what to expect on this special day. Of course Shavuot was a special time for Israel, it was the time when the whole people of Israel heard the voice of God from the Sinai. It was a unique time in history; no other people than the Jewish people had such an extraordinary experience with the God of the universe.
The text of Acts of Apostles says that they were all united, asking forgiveness to one another, loving one another and as it is said at the end of this same chapter: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common…” (Acts 2:42–47).
In the parasha Bemidbar we discover that the day of Shavuot in the desert (Bemidbar) can be considered as the day of birth of the Jewish people, in the same way, this day of Shavuot in Jerusalem was the day of birth of the Jewish movement of Yeshua the Messiah.
In the wilderness (Bemidbar) God gave to Israel his law, the Ten Commandments and by extension the Torah as a gift. God was preparing now a special gift for the followers of Yeshua on that special day of Shavuot.
Let’s remember God’s promise to Israel about a new covenant with Israel. Jeremiah said: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the L-rd, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah … this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the L-rd: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.” (Jeremiah 31:31, 33). God wanted to engrave the Torah not anymore on stones, but in the heart of his people. Only the Ruach Elohim (spirit of God) has power to engrave the Torah in God’s people heart. That is why on Shavuot of the year 31 CE, a few days after the ascension of Yeshua to heaven, God revealed himself in a wonderful way giving the powerful gift preparing the talmidim of Yeshua, and the 108 people who were gathering in their own synagogue to celebrate Shavuot and to worship Him. “And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit…” (Acts 2:2–3).
It is this Ruach Elohim the Ruach Ha-Kodesh (holy spirit) that gave them the courage to preach the good news of Yeshua in spite of the opposition of the leaders. It is this Ruach Ha-Kodesh that wrote the Torah in their heart and help them to understand the Torah and the Tanach that was inspired by the same spirit. As Rabbi shaul confirmed it: “All Scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for restoration, and for training in righteousness, so that the person belonging to God may be capable, fully equipped for every good deed.” (2 Timothy 3:16–17). Remembering that the Apostolic Writings did not exist at that time, All Scripture were the Tanach or Jewish Bible.
As the result of this pouring of the Ruach Ha-Kodesh upon the disciples, the first among them, Shim’on-Peter, delivered a drasha (sermon) about Yeshua to the Yerushalmites and the pilgrims who were gathered in Yerushalayim for Shavuot: “““Men of Israel, hear these words! Yeshua ha-Natzrati—a Man authenticated to you by God with mighty deeds and wonders and signs God performed through Him in your midst, as you yourselves know” (Acts 2:22). It is not our intent to report here the sermon of Peter in full, everyone can open his book of Acts of Apostles and read it. At the end of this drasha, the people of Jerusalem were touched in their heart and they asked: “Fellow brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37), Shim’on answered : “Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let each of you be immersed in the name of Messiah Yeshua for the removal of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Ruach ha-Kodesh. For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far away—as many as HASHEM our God calls to Himself.’” (Acts 2:38–39) as a result there was a great service of immersion in a Mikve of Jerusalem, certainly in Shiloah or Bethzatha, and 3,000 Jews accepted Yeshua on that day and were added to the new movement of Yeshua. It was the great start of this Jewish movement two thousand years ago.