Parashas Bamidbar

This week’s parashah describes Moshe Rabbeinu’s census of the Jewish People. The Torah relates that the people “exhibited their lineage according to their families” (Bamidbar 1:8), and Rashi explains that they presented documents and witnesses attesting to their lineage. The Midrash in Yalkut Shimoni I:684 states that it was specifically on account of the Jewish People’s orderly lineage that they merited being given the Torah. The Maggid offers an explanation of the connection between the two.
He builds on a Midrash about the giving of the Torah. When Moshe assembled the Jewish People at Sinai to receive the Torah, the entire people called out together and said (Shemos 19:8): “All that Hashem has spoken, we shall do (naaseh).” The Midrash in Yalkut Shimoni I:276, expounding on this statement, describes the people as saying: “Even before being given these commands, we have fulfilled them.” The Midrash goes on, for each of the Ten Commandments, to give an example from sefer Bereishis of how that commandment was fulfilled by Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Yosef, or Yaakov’s twelve sons collectively. Thus, the Midrash is reading the future tense active plural verb naaseh as if the Jewish People had used (or meant) the past tense passive verb naasah. This interpretation seems very perplexing, but the Maggid offers an astute explanation. In truth, he says, the people said and meant naaseh – we shall do – and they were referring to the deeds of their ancestors to justify their bold confidence in declaring that they would fulfill all that Hashem had spoken.
The key is the principle that the experiences and deeds of the forefathers are an omen for and are inherited by the Jewish People of all future generations. Thus, the Midrash states that when Sarah held herself back from illicit relations with Pharaoh, she generated a merit that enabled the Jewish women under the Egyptian enslavement to hold themselves back from illicit relations (Vayikra Rabbah 32:5). Yosef’s firm resistance to the advances of Potiphar’s wife generated a similar merit for the Jewish men (ibid). Thus, expounding on Shir HaShirim 1:5, the Midrash describes Knesses Yisrael as declaring: “I am black as regards my own deeds, but I am beautiful as regards the deeds of my forefathers.” We do not give forth light on our own, but the light of our forefathers’ deeds shines upon us and is reflected in our deeds.
In general, every time a righteous Jew stands up to a test, he eases they way for those coming after him to stand up to a similar test. In this vein, Shlomo HaMelech teaches (Mishlei 20:7): “One who walks in his integrity is a righteous man; fortunate are his sons coming after him.” Likewise, in speaking of righteous men, Dovid HaMelech declares (Tehillim 17:14): “Their portion is eternal life; You fill their bellies with Your hidden treasure. They are sated with sons, and they bequeath their abundance to their babes.” Dovid is saying that righteous men bequeath their deeds to their descendants, easing their way by paving a path that they can tread securely, and generating merit that serves them as a source of aid. This is what the Jews at Sinai had in mind when they made their bold declaration: “All that Hashem has spoken, we shall do.” Since their ancestors had already kept the Torah, they knew a path had been paved for them that would enable them to keep the Torah as well.
A clear lineage stirs a person’s soul. In one of his oratories about the Jewish People, Bilaam declared (Bamidbar 23:9): “From the top of mighty rocks I see them, and from hills I behold them.” The Midrash in Bamidbar Rabbah 20:19 remarks that mighty rocks refers to our patriarchs and hills refers to our matriarchs. Bilaam was movingly describing the clear line of sight from the partriarchs and matriarchs to the Jewish People in the wilderness. By way of analogy, if a plain is entirely free of haze, a person standing at one end of the plain can see straight through to the other end. Similarly, a clear lineage allows each successive descendant to see all the way back to his initial roots. This majestic view instills within him a clear sense of connection with his ancestors and thus spurs him to follow their ways. Accordingly, Hashem gave the Jewish People the Torah specifically on account of their tradition of maintaining an orderly lineage. This tradition ensured that they would preserve the Torah faithfully throughout the generations.
Note: I am now adding a new feature to the site – a link to a PDF version of the divrei Torah posts. The divrei Torah may be distributed freely, with appropriate attribution, in both electronic and hard copy form. I encourage you to distribute the divrei Torah to others.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.