Ba'midbar - Weekly Torah Portion

The Israelites are now ready to move. There are many people there and it is necessary to plan its defense and therefore a headcount commences. Counted are “every male, head by head from twenty years old and upward, whoever is able to go out to war in Israel, you and Aaron shall number them by their armies.” This is a census that is directed to men only, and from them only those who can fight in a war. The count therefore finds that “the tribe of Reuben were 46,500”, the tribe of Simeon 59,300, and so on and so forth until the tribe of Naphtali who count at 53,400. The total count is no less than 603,500.

Yet there is one more group of able persons that does not get counted, at least not for this purpose. “Only the tribe of Levi you shall not number, nor shall you take their census among the sons of Israel.” They are not counted because they are accountable for “the tabernacle of the testimony, and over all its furnishings and over all that belongs to it. They shall carry the tabernacle and all its furnishings, and they shall take care of it; they shall also camp around the tabernacle.” Already in those early days we find out that there are some people who are exempt from tough tasks that others are ordered to perform. The camp itself is so arranged that tribes camp around each of the sides. From the east the tribes of Judah, Issachar and Zebulun; On the southern flank we find Reuben, Simeon and Gad; From the west come the tribes of Ephraim, Manasseh and Benjamin; and covering the northern flank of the camp there are the tribes of Dan, Asher and Naphtali. This was the case when they camped and when they travelled, “so they camped by their standards, and so they set out, everyone by his family according to his father’s household.”

Walking into the desert in such an organized fashion seems to be the right thing to do. The Haftarah from the book of Hosea the desert is used with a twist. The prophet is upset with the People of Israel and warns, “I will also put an end to all her gaiety, Her feasts, her new moons, her sabbaths And all her festal assemblies. I will destroy her vines and fig trees, Of which she said, ‘These are my wages Which my lovers have given me.’ And I will make them a forest, And the beasts of the field will devour them. I will punish her for the days of the Baals When she used to offer sacrifices to them And adorn herself with her earrings and jewelry, And follow her lovers, so that she forgot Me, declares the Lord.”

In order to overcome what was forgotten Hosea suggests that it is necessary to go back into the desert, claiming, “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, Bring her into the wilderness And speak kindly to her. Then I will give her her vineyards from there, And the valley of Achor as a door of hope. And she will sing there as in the days of her youth, As in the day when she came up from the land of Egypt. It will come about in that day, declares the Lord, That you will call Me Ishi And will no longer call Me Baali.” Obviously, it is possible to change but in order for us to do so we must go towards a place from where one can see what is good, that which is functional, that which is missing, and that which is repairable.

Last Wednesday four young women filed an appeal with the Israel Supreme Court demanding that the Chief-of-Staff and the Minister of Defense open the team building days of elite units of the army also to women so that they can also try to qualify for service in these acclaimed units. Last February several other young female soldiers appealed to the court with a similar request to allow women to serve in combat units of the armored forces, which was denied with the justices requesting that it first be dealt with within the military before going to court. Among the appellants in both cases you will be able to find graduates of our very own Mekhina attendees where we strive to promote the values of leadership and meaningful service. These young women are clearly announcing that they do not accept the paradigm of the book of Numbers and rather request that another paradigm is adopted. One where men and women are judged using the same criteria. If they succeed than all of us benefit.

Surely there are those who are less than pleased with these attempts by women in our society to be treated on an equal basis. They will repeat old unproven arguments, or arguments that have been proven to be wrong and ought to have found their way out of the public discourse. Once we bow to the demand to exclude someone from a position because of their gender, beliefs, preferences, color of skin or opinions that are irrelevant to the task at hand, all of us lose. The earlier we can shake off of ourselves and the society we live in these prejudices against the other the better. It will give us the opportunity to put the best people to perform the job where they ought to be. May be then we will be able to enjoy the blessing of the prophet, “I will betroth you to Me forever; Yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and in justice, In lovingkindness and in compassion, And I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness. Then you will know the Lord.”

Shabbat Shalom, Chodesh Tov and wishes for good health to all.

Reuven Marko, 22 May 2020, 27 Iyar, 5780

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