Category Archives: Numbers

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Bamidbar: Unplugged

Plug Nail ArtHow often do we truly unplug? Sometimes we need to take a vacation in another place in order to distance ourselves from being attached to our iPhones and other electronic devices. Parashat Bamidbar presents an interesting take on how location can affect our ability to focus. The Midrash in Bamidbar Rabbah 6:1 explains that God purposely chose the “Midbar,” the desert, as the location in which to give Bnai Yisrael the Torah. The desert was a place with less distractions and more opportunity for Bnai Yisrael to recognize their dependence on God. Continue reading

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Parashat Bamidbar

I am half way through watching an American television series called The West Wing. The fictitious American president’s staff members are always interested in polling the American public so that they can report back with numbers to help support a particular agenda. This spirit of gathering numbers resonated with me as I read through Parashat Bamidbar. Why did God order a census of Bnai Yisrael at this point in history? Continue reading

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Nasso: The Case of the Sotah

Sotah Nail ArtThe episode of the scarlet letter seems minimal compared to the ordeals of the Sotah, found in this week’s Parasha. Bible scholar Alice Bach explains how the Sotah, the case of a woman accused by her husband of adultery, is the only instance in the Torah when a person can be accused of a capital crime without two witnesses. Once accused by her husband, as part of the ritual, the woman was brought before a Kohen and required to drink bitter waters filled with dust from the floor. Continue reading

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Parashat Nasso

This week’s Torah portion, Parashat Nasso, mentions the offerings that the Nesiim, the leaders of the tribes of Bnai Yisrael, brought at the time that the Mishkan was being prepared for use. The Nesiim first offered a group gift of oxen and carts to carry the Mishkan. Following the group gift, each leader individually contributed the same gift of utensils and animals, one day at at time for twelve days.
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B’haalotcha: Cravings

Bird nail artIn Parashat B’haalotcha, members Bnai Yisrael complained to Moshe that they were tired of eating Manna day in and day out and that they wished to eat meat. The Spanish scholar Rabenu Bachya explains how Manna was meant to elevate Bnai Yisrael on a spiritual level, but not necessarily satisfy them on physical level. Bnai Yisrael desired something that was less bland and more physically satiating. God’s response to Bnai Yisrael’s complaint was to send down swarms of quail. Members of Bnai Yisrael who ate the quail were struck with a plague that took their lives. Continue reading

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Parashat B’haalotcha

“You Light Up My Life,” the title of a song popularized in the 1970s, helps to encapsulate a theme in this week’s Parasha, which contains the commandment to light the Menorah. The Midrash in Numbers Rabbah 15:8 asks: Why did God command us to kindle the lamps? After all, God doesn’t physically need light! The Midrash brings in the following story: A king said to his friend, “I want to have dinner with you at your place. So go get ready!” Continue reading

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Shlach: They Might Be Giants

NY Giants Nail ArtThe Midrash in Bamidbar Rabah 16:11 asks: How do you scare a child? You remind the child of things that hurt them in the past. In Parashat Shlach, ten out of the twelve spies take advantage of Bnai Yisrael’s collective childhood memories. In describing the negative traits of the Land of Israel, the ten spies first speak about the presence of the people of Amalek in Israel. The people of Amalek were known for attacking Bnai Yisrael from the back, attacking the women, children and elderly first. The spies also mention that there are giants living in the land of Israel. Continue reading

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Parashat Shlach

In Parashat Shelach, God tells Moshe to send twelve Meraglim, scouts, on an expedition to explore the Land of Israel. Ten out of the twelve Meraglim return with a not-so-flattering report about this land of milk and honey, telling Bnai Yisrael: “And we were in our own eyes as grasshoppers, and so we were in their eyes” (Numbers 13:33). The Midrash in Tanhuma Shelach 7 points out a flaw in the logic of the Meraglim. Continue reading

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Korach: Leadership Blossoms

Almond Blossoms Nail Art KorachKorach’s rebellion challenged the legitimacy of the leadership of Moshe and Aharon. Right after Korach and his followers were destroyed, Hashem instructed Moshe to take twelve rods and to inscribe on them the name of the leader of each tribe. Overnight, the rod with Aharon’s name on it blossomed with leaves, flowers, and almonds (Bamidbar 17:23). This miracle signified that Aharon was chosen as the high priest and reconfirmed the role of the Kohanim in the spiritual leadership of Bnai Yisrael. Continue reading

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Parashat Korach

Parashat Korach, which is named for the man who stirred up a rebellion against Moshe and Aharon, begins with the words “Vayikach Korach,” “Korach took.” What is it that Korach “took?” The authors of the Midrash in Numbers Rabbah 18:3 looked to the final lines of last week’s Parasha in order to find an answer. The last lines of Parashat Shelach contain the third paragraph of the Shema, which introduces the commandment to wear Tzitzit. Continue reading

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Chukat: Ritual Detergent

Red Heifer Cow Nail ArtHave you ever had a really tough stain that requires immediate attention? Local pharmacies often keep stain sticks, wipes and other forms of remover right near the checkout lines. In Parashat Chukat, we read about what the bible scholar Jacob Milgrom refers to as a “ritual detergent,” namely the ashes of the Parah Adumah, or red heifer. The Torah treats human contact with a corpse as requiring immediate attention through ritual purification. Continue reading

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Parashat Chukat

Whenever the authors of Midrashim have a question about a particular Torah text but they don’t want to officially ask it, they will insert a character into the Midrashic narrative who will ask the question on their behalf. In Numbers Rabbah 19:8, the authors present us with an idol worshipper who questions the 1st century sage Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai. The idol worshipper states: Your Torah’s rituals look just like witchcraft! You bring a red heifer, burn it, and take its ashes in order to use them as a remedy for impurity.” Continue reading

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Parashat Balak: Blind Spots

Donkey Nail ArtDid a parent or teacher ever give you permission to do something but then get upset with you when you actually did it? This seems to be the case for Balaam in this week’s Parasha. God allowed Balaam to go out to curse Bnai Yisrael but God became angry when Balaam actually set out on his way. When Balaam was mid-course, Balaam’s donkey stopped short and refused to move. Little did Balaam know that God had sent an angel with a sword in his path. Balaam hit his donkey in anger each time the donkey came to a halt. God opened the mouth of the donkey to rebuke Balaam for his actions and only then was the angel revealed to Balaam. Continue reading

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Parashat Balak

The original debut of a talking donkey occurred not in the movie Shrek, but in this week’s Torah portion. Baalam-the-prophet was on his way to curse Bnai Yisrael, at the order of the Moabite King Balak. Balaam’s donkey drove quite frantically on the road in efforts to avert collision with an angel who was holding a sword. In response to his roller coaster of a donkey-ride, Balaam hit the donkey at each abrupt stop. Continue reading

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Pinchas: Passing the Mantle

Moses Staff Leadership SemichahIn Parashat Pinchas, Moshe asked God to appoint someone to take his place as the leader of Bnai Yisrael. What triggered this request from Moshe? The Midrash in Bamidbar Rabbah 21:13 explains that when Moshe saw that the five daughters of Zelophchad received their father’s inheritance, he began to wonder about who would receive his inheritance and take over his position as leader of Bnai Yisrael. The fact that Moshe recognized the need for new leadership and a smooth transition to this new era for Bnai Yisrael speaks to his qualities as a leader. Moshe is instructed to lay his hands upon Yehoshua in order to initiate the transfer of power and authority to him. Continue reading

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Parashat Pinchas

Parashat Pinchas features a unique occurrence in the Torah: a re-formulation of law. Moreover, this change to a law of inheritance is prompted by five women. The daughters of Tzelophchad, Malchah, Noah, Choglah, Milkha, and Tirtzah, bravely stepped in front of Moshe, Elazar the Kohen Gadol, the tribal leaders, and the elders to say: “give us a possession among our father’s brothers” (Numbers 27:4). The five sisters articulated their argument clearly, causing Moshe to bring their case before God. God responded to Moshe that the daughters should in fact receive their father’s inheritance. Continue reading

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Matot/Maasei

Foursquare nail artIf foursquare had existed in biblical times, this app would have certainly come in handy for Moshe. In Parashat Maasei, Moshe lists all 42 places that Bnai Yisrael stopped in during their 40-year desert travels. Why did Moshe take the time to mention these stops at the very end of Bnai Yisrael’s journey? The Be’er Yitzchak of the 19th century writes how recalling these details of their journey in the desert enabled Bnai Yisrael to better appreciate how Hashem had helped them at each stage along the way. While the desert was not an easy place to dwell in and to navigate for 40 years, Bnai Yisrael were under God’s constant protection. Continue reading

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Parashat Matot/Masei

Short term benefits or long term rewards? This is the dilemma facing two tribes in Parashat Matot. The tribes of Reuven and Gad requested permission to remain on the other side of the Jordan rather than move to the Land of Israel, stating: “We will build here sheepfolds for our flocks and towns for our children” (Numbers 32:16). Any tribe’s request to live outside the Land of Israel would have been troubling to Moshe. This request was even more distrubing given that Reuven and Gad prioritized their cattle before kids. While Moshe ultimately agreed to this real estate deal, so long as Reuven and Gad would fully participate in conquering the land of Israel, Moshe’s response to the tribes indicated his disappointment in their priorities. Moshe responded with a subtle reversal of their original request: “Build towns for your children and sheepfolds for your flocks…” (Numbers 32:24). Continue reading

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