Parashat Bamidbar (In the wilderness)

Parashat Bamidbar (In the wilderness) Numbers 1:1-4:20
Haftarah: I Samuel 20:18-42

Three things are special about this Shabbat. The first is that we are in a new Chumash (one of the five books of Moses). The word Chumash comes from the Hebrew word meaning five. The second is that this Shabbat is the day before a new month (Sivan). When either the new month or the eve of the new month falls on Shabbat the normal prophetic reading is replaced with a special one related to the celebration of the new month (Rosh Chodesh). The third and final thing that makes this Shabbat special is that it is the last Shabbat before Rosh Chodesh so there is a special blessing for the new month at the end of the first morning service and before the second additional one (musaf).

This week’s Torah reading has to do with the names of the leaders of each tribe and how many men there were in each tribe who were available to go out to war. The Levites were not counted in the same manner as the rest of the tribes. They were counted later and organized according to their work. There was also an emphasis on the formation of the tribes in the camp and how they assembled around the tabernacle.

In this article we will discuss the significance of the redeeming of the first born. The Torah reveals that HaShem should have the priority in one’s life; that is that He should be first. In order to show this, each family was required to give their first born son to HaShem for special religious service. In G-d’s providence he allowed one to redeem his firstborn son by means of a Levite serving in his place. The issue that I want to emphasize is that a substitute was allowed. The Levites served vicariously in place of the literal firstborn son.

The main question that needs to be asked is this: If one of the purposes that G-d instituted the law of the firstborn was to teach man about how G-d should be the priority of one’s life, doesn’t then allowing another to take the firstborn’s place kind of lessen this?  Such a view fails to understand the underlying factor that the Levites are serving vicariously for the firstborn. It is not that the firstborn has been relieved from this service by the Levite, rather now the firstborn can actually accomplish more. They can do the work that each individual does on a normal basis and receive the benefits vicariously from the work that the Levites were doing in their behalf.

The primary message is that one needs to learn how to blend / merge life in this world with service to the L-rd. If the firstborns were to leave their families and their normal life obligations to serve in complete service to G-d in a separated manner of life as the Levites, then this lesson would not be learned. True spirituality is not when one is solely focused on spiritual issues, but when one learns the proper balance between one’s spiritual obligations and those things which are necessary for life in the world in which G-d has placed us. That is in a supernatural way, it was as though the firstborn was actually doing the work that the Levites were performing.

This principle teaches one that there should not be an absolute dichotomy between the secular and the spiritual; rather one should learn the relationship between the secular and the spiritual. This is exactly the message of the havdalah in Judaism. Havdalah is the brief service that marks the end of the Sabbath day. It is significant that the prayer is never said on the Shabbat. It is said customarily in the evening of the first day of the week (that is Saturday night). Jewish law even allows one to say it up until the end of Tuesday (sundown Tuesday night). Why do the sages allow that this service be said up to this time? The answer is to show that there is a connection between Shabbat the six days of labor. What one learns from Havdalah is that the influences of Shabbat should be taken into account and allowed to impact the rest of the week.

In Hebrew to show this connection between Shabbat and the rest of the week, one calls the days of the week as a number in relationship to Shabbat. In fact, one of the Hebrew words for week is Shabbat.

Remember HaShem created man at the end of the sixth day so that the first thing that man would do is observe the Shabbat. For the Shabbat is the best preparation for the new week.

Shabbat Shalom

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