Photo of Rabbi Ettedgui

Parashat Bamidbar - 5776

My friends,

This Shabbat we begin reading the fourth book of the Torah - the Book of Bamidbar (in the wilderness) or the Book of Numbers as it is known in English. The generation we read about in the preceding book, the Book of Exodus, experienced some extraordinary events: They were liberated from Egypt, they saw G-d's continuous protection as they crossed the Sea of Reeds, they received the Torah at Mount Sinai, they received their daily bread in the form of Manna from heaven, they built a Tabernacle for G-d to dwell among them – all they needed now was to enter the Promised Land and live there according to the teachings they received at Mount Sinai.

For this reason, the Book of Bamidbar begins with the taking of a census to see how many men would be available to serve in the conquering army. Once the numbers of each tribe are known, they will be assigned a place to camp around the Tabernacle.

While this book begins with much anticipation and optimism, because the people are on the threshold of entering the Promised Land, the book ends in a totally different way. Things happen in the wilderness. When the spies are sent to scout the land, they return with a terrible report, the people are discouraged, and they rebel against Moses and demand to return to Egypt. The Book ends with the decree that they will wander in this wilderness for forty years until this generation dies out, and their children will be the ones who will enter the Promised Land.

This Shabbat is very special because it is the Eve of the Festival of Shavuot, the day when the Torah was given at Mount Sinai, giving it the name of 'Zman Matan Toratenu', the time when we were given the Torah. Shavuot will be observed Sunday and Monday.

I believe that both themes are reflected in our life today. We live in Bamidbar, in the wilderness, given the unbelievable ignorance of so many people and nations when it comes to our people's right to Eretz Yisrael. Historical facts have been distorted and ignored. Our voices are like Kol Bamidbar – a voice in the wilderness. No one is listening.

Sunday, with the onset of Shavuot, the Festival of Matan Torah, the Giving of the Torah, we are asked to be ready to accept the Torah, and respond like our ancestors did with the words "Na-asseh Venishma" - "We will do and will listen". We have a choice before us. We can show our appreciation for Shabbat and the Giving of the Torah by attending service and reliving the Revelation at Sinai.

Shabbat Shalom and Hag Sameach!