Shabbat Shalom Dear Reader, Parshat Bamidbar 5774

May 23, 2014

Chagall Twelve Tribes

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The following article is partially based upon an article that appeared previously on Globe Tribune.Info.
Candle  lighting, which is 18 minutes before sunset, and which marks the onset of Shabbat, begins this week at 7:55PM  in Brooklyn, New York . Chabad.org has a page on their web site which has candle lighting information for other locations. Other links are visible from that page that connect to meaningful and interesting articles.These articles  can be printed out before Shabbat to be read on that day when your computer is resting.

Aish.com has an article about Pinchas Rosenbaum,  who was 21 years old in 1944, when the deportation of Hungary’s Jews by the Nazis began. Rosenbaum, using his fluency in German and Hungarian, played the roles of German and Hungarian Nazis in order to rescue Jews who were faced with deportation and murder.

Chabad.org has an article by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks  that takes as its departure point the census of the Jewish nation that occurs in this parsha. In Judaism, a census is a very tricky matter. Conducted the wrong way, it has resulted in plagues. In Jewish tradition, human effort is important, but the blessings of the Almighty are critical. The attitude of cockiness that can come from counting troops or counting money is to be avoided. In addition, there is the tension between the needs of the family, the community and the nation and the perspectives of the individual. How does one harmonise individuality with a sense of community and respect for the needs of the group? Rabbi Sacks explores these questions.

A good part of this week’s parsha deals with the census of the tribes, each of which had its own flag and encampment. In addition to each tribe being part of the Jewish people, each tribe had its own distinct identity, some differences in prayer and speech. The remnant that exists today  of the twelve tribes is the tribe of Levi, some of whom are also Cohanim, or priests, and the majority of Jews who are assumed to be from the tribe of Yehuda. There are some opinions that various groups of Jews around the world such as Bukharians are descended from other tribes. Other hypotheses point to some groups of non Jews such as the Pashtuns of Afghanistan. One theory is that remnants of the ten lost tribes mingled in with the tribe of Judah.

What I most enjoy about parshas with the census in them, is that they are a reminder that unity does not mean the same carbon copies of each other. Some of the tribes were more scholarly, such as Yissachar, and others were business oriented , such as Zevulun. Each tribe, with its distinct personality and mission, added something to the Jewish people in general. Indeed, differences within the Jewish people are not only tolerated  but embraced as an enhancement of our collective existence. Reflecting upon this realisation can and should improve our lives until the lost tribes are finally rediscovered and reconnected to the Jewish people.

One of the questions faced by the nations of the world is how to handle differences. India and Pakistan, Northern Ireland and even the French and the English speakers in Canada have had their varying levels of tension. If the  experience of the Jewish nation is to be instructive, we must be able to experience the tension between diversity and underlying unity as an asset and a positive experience.

It is especially fortuitous that this theme of unity and mutual acceptance should occur during the days between Passover and Shavuot, a time when the Omer is counted and unity is stressed. May this time of the Jewish calendar be a time of peace and unity.

 

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