23 May 2014

Parshat Bamidbar 5774

23 Iyar 5774
Erev Shabbat Kodesh
Day 38 of the Omer

Parashat Bamidbar - Dear Jew, you are precious to G-d! – Rabbi Meir Kahane

Hashem spoke to Moses in the Wilderness of Sinai ..., saying: Take a census of the entire assembly of the Children of Israel according to their families, according to their fathers' household, by numbers of the names, every male according to their head count. (Num. 1:1-2).

Tanchuma, Bamidbar, 20, teaches: A man had glass vessels, and he would take them to the market, set them out and gather them back up without ever counting them. Because they were of glass, he did not keep track of them. He had other merchandise, fine pearls, which he would count before taking to the market, before setting them out, and before gathering them back up. Because they were pearls, he loved them. In the same way, so to speak, G-d said, “I did not count the nations, since they have no importance for Me, as it says, 'all the nations are as nothing before Him, they are accounted before Him as things of naught and vanity' (Isaiah 40:17). Yet, you, Israel, 'are borne by Me from birth, carried by Me from the womb' (Isaiah 46:3). Therefore, I count you constantly.” Thus it says, “Make a tally of the male firstborn among the children of Israel.” (Num. 3:40)

Israel are G-d's “reshit”, first and foremost among all the nations, and superior to them all. Israel are also G-d's firstborn, as it says, “You must say to Pharaoh, 'This is what the L-rd says: Israel is My son, My firstborn'.” (Ex. 4:22). The word for firstborn, bechor, is close to the terms bachur and nivchar, connoting selection, because the firstborn is the one G-d selects, and then “the birthright – bechora – is legally his” (Deut. 21:17), the bechira, i.e. selection. It is probable that the word bechira, selection, which includes examination and thought about what and whom to choose, is close to the word bakar, a root meaning to examine, clarify and choose, as in the verse, “No distinction must be made – lo yivaker – between better and worse” (Lev. 27:33). Israel are G-d's chosen people, His treasure, His children, majestic and royal. As R. Shimon said (Shabbat 128a), “All of Israel are the children of kings.” And R. Ashi said in Zevachim 19a: Huna bar Natan told me, “I was once standing before [the non-Jewish] King Izgadar, and my sash was too high and he lowered it, saying: 'The Torah calls you "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation."' (Ex. 19:6).

My father and teacher [Rabbi Yechezkel Shraga Kahane ztz”l] once pointed out to me that, unfortunately, a large segment of the nation, and perhaps a majority, acknowledge their Jewishness only because of the hatred of the non-Jews who do not allow them to assimilate and disappear. For this, a Jew who keeps Torah and mitzvot is obligated to recite the blessing “She lo assani goy” (“Who didn't make me a non-Jew”) which [also] can be translated “That not the non-Jew made me [be a Jew]”. Rather, I myself, chose to be part of the Jewish People because of G-d's Torah. Israel endures forever! And why? What do they have that the nations of the world lack? Is their skin different? Is there no wisdom among the nations? Surely, our sages explicitly said (Echa Rabbah, 2:13), “If a person says, 'There is wisdom among the nations', believe him.” Rather, there is only one difference between Israel and the nations. There is only one logical, rational reason for a person to be proud of his being a Jew: The Torah. As our sages said (Torat Kohanim, Bechukotai, 8:11): “What remains to them that has not become vile and loathsome? Were not all the fine gifts that were given to them taken away? If not for the Torah that remained with them, they would be no different from the nations at all.” This is the secret of Israel's uniqueness and exclusiveness. Only this Torah hallows, exalts and sets Israel apart from all the nations. All the rest, nationalism and national pride, are nothing but a meaningless farce.

Yet, since G-d chose Israel to be His holy people and to fulfill His Torah, they were granted extraordinary love and a special status, and they became the mate and partner, so to speak, of Him Whose word brought the world into being. The Jew called up to the Torah blesses loudly and with joyous devotion, the One “Who chose us from all the nations and gave us His Torah.” Regarding our sages' utterance (Bava Metzia 85b) that the Second Temple was destroyed because Israel “did not recite the blessing over the Torah before studying Torah,” a great rabbi once commented that they did not make sure to say “Who chose us from all the nations,” which is the content of the blessing recited before reading from the Torah. So great is Israel's selection from among all the nations!

How great is our duty to be happy and thank G-d every single moment for having been born as part of the chosen people, supreme and holy! Our sages established that each day before morning prayers we must say, “Happy are we! How good is our destiny, how pleasant is our lot, how beautiful our heritage!” How disgraceful it is that a Jew is ashamed of taking pride in his role and in his exalted spiritual level, fearful of what the nations will say, trying to belittle the importance and definition of Israel as a chosen, supreme people! Consider the blight of exile and servitude. Observe how it has made the alien culture rule over us and harmed our healthy spirits. What healthy nation would not want to be chosen, treasured and unique? It was in response to this that King David said, “In You did our fathers trust; they trusted, and You did deliver them. Unto You did they trust, and were not ashamed” (Ps. 22:5-6). Faith and trust in G-d must be without shame. What times these are, when belief and trust have turned into something “illogical” that a Jew is ashamed to talk about openly. 

Likewise, the concept of chosenness has become a source of mockery and scorn. Under the sway of the alien culture, it has become a negative, racist concept and many good people have been ashamed to take pride in it; hence the separation between Israel and the nations has been blurred. Listen, my friend, and cast off all your shame regarding the superior status given you. Rejoice in your exalted inheritance! The way the Hellenists and assimilationists fear the nations' reaction is just part of what compels them to deny Israel's selection. Infinitely worse is the influence of the alien culture which has so penetrated their bones that the idea that there really is a nation chosen from all the rest and spiritually superior appears to them an abomination. Surely they are hostages of the nonsensical concept of equality, which brings everything – goodness and evil, wisdom and folly, the genius and the simpleton – to one standing. Nothing brings greater ruin than this foolishness, and regarding this alien culture it says, “Do not bring any offensive idol into you house, since then you may become just like it. Shun it totally and consider it absolutely offensive, since it is taboo” (Deut. 7:26); and, “Let nothing that has been declared taboo there remain in your hands” (Ibid., 13:18). A thick wall divides Israel from the nations, a Divine partition which separates between the sacred and the profane, between Israel and the nations. Indeed, holiness and separateness descended upon us from Heaven as a beloved pair, bound to one another by Divine decree.

Our sages said (Tanchuma, Kedoshim 5): G-d said to Israel, “I am not like mortal man. With mortal man, non-royalty are forbidden to have the same name as the king.” As proof, when a person wishes to get his fellow man into trouble, he can call him by the emperor's name, and that man's life will be forfeit. Israel, however, were called by G-d's name. Every lovely name G-d had, He called Israel by it. He called Himself Elokim and He called Israel Elokim, as it says, “I said that you are elohim [G-d-like beings]” (Ps. 82:6). G-d was called chacham, wise, as it says, “He is wise of heart and mighty in strength” (Job 9:4), and He called Israel chacham, as in, “This great nation is certainly a wise and understanding people” (Deut. 4:6). He was called dodi, “my beloved”, as it says, “My beloved is white and ruddy” (Song of Songs 5:10), and He called Israel His beloved, as it says, “Eat, O friends, drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved” (Ibid., v. 1). G-d was called bachur, “select”, as it says, “select as the cedars” (Ibid., v. 15), and He called Israel select, as it says, “The L-rd your G-d selected you” (Deut. 7:6). He was called chassid, “saintly”, as it says, “I am saintly, says the L-rd” (Jer. 3:12) and He called Israel saints, as it says, “Gather My saints together unto Me” (Ps. 50:5). He was called holy, as it says, “Holy, holy, holy is the L-rd of hosts.!” (Isaiah 6:3); and, “For the L-rd our G-d is holy” (Ps. 99:9), and He called Israel holy, as it says, “You must be holy” (Lev. 19:2).

Consider what our sages said about the greatness, holiness, supremacy and belovedness of Israel – that even though G-d is the G-d of all living creatures, He still associated His name exclusively with Israel. As Shemot Rabbah, 29:4, teaches: “G-d said to Israel, 'I am the G-d of all creatures on earth, but I did not associate My name with any but you. I am not called the G-d of the nations but the G-d of Israel.” Pesikta Rabbati (10) teaches, “G-d said to Moses, 'Moses, exalt this nation as much as you possibly can, for it is as though you exalt Me.'”

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