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Parshat Bamidbar


Welcome to Bambidbar, aka the Book of Numbers. Not surprisingly, the census reported in this first chapter of the fourth of the 5 Books of Moses is far less complicated than the one we Americans will face in 2020. Certainly, as the stateless Israelites continue their trek towards the Promised Land, they are not being asked to prove their citizenship. "On the first day of the second month, in the second year following the exodus from the land of Egypt, the Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the Tent of Meeting, saying: 'Take a census of the whole Israelite community by the clan of its ancestral houses, listing the names, every male, head by head." The table number pictured here in the Manhattan wilderness represents the 12 tribes, each one descended from a son of Jacob. The census includes all men over the age of 20 "who were were able to bear arms--all who were enrolled came to 603,550." The Levites are counted separately for they will not fight; these twenty-two thousand men are in charge of the Holy Tabernacle. (The Kohanim, the priests, are also Levites). "'You shall put the Levites in charge of the Tabernacle of the Pact, all its furnishings, and everything that pertains to it: they shall carry the Tabernacle...and they shall tend it; and they shall camp around (it)...(standing) guard around (it).'" Bambidbar goes on to describe the intricacies of the camp formation and gives strict Biblical marching orders for how the people are to move through the desert. "'The Israelites shall camp each with his standard, under the banners of their ancestral house; they shall camp around the Tent of the Meeting at a distance....As they camp, so shall they march, each in position, by their standards."

Finally, G-d delivers very specific instructions about how to pack up the Tabernacle when it is time to go. For example, "...Aaron and his sons shall go in and take down the screening curtain and cover the Ark of the Pact with it. They shall lay a covering of dolphin skin over it and spread a cloth of pure blue on top..." Using these skins, and "crimson" and blue cloths, they lovingly wrap every single sacred object, from "flesh hooks" to "oil vessels" to the "altar of gold". Maybe this explains why there are so many Israeli moving companies?

The holiday of Shavuot begins at sundown on Saturday and continues through Monday night, marking the miraculous moment when the Israelites receive the Torah and thus become a nation. Dairy foods are customarily eaten on Shavuot to recall the Israelite's immediate acceptance of the Torah's food laws--no meat eating until hundreds of thousands of Jewish housewives kasher their tents!

Enjoy your cheesecake, blintzes, and lasagna--but don't forget the Lactaid! Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach!

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