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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Parshas Bamidbar 5772 "A Shining Star"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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One day a traveler was walking along the beach when he noticed a man walking along the sand scooping up starfish and tossing them into the waves. Curious, the traveler asked him what he was doing. The man replied, “When the tide goes out it leaves many starfish stranded on the beach. If they are left here they will die before the tide comes back in. So I am throwing them back into the ocean.

The traveler asked the man, “But there are thousands of starfish stranded along the miles of beach. Why are you bothering to throw them in? What you’re doing does not really make much of a difference.” The traveler looked at the starfish in his hand as he cast it back into the ocean, and replied, “It makes a difference to this one.”[1]

Rashi at the beginning of Chumash Bamidbar writes, “Out of his great love for Klal Yisroel, He (G-d) counts them constantly”.

Much of parshas Bamidbar is dedicated to counting the tribes of Klal Yisroel. The count is followed by a detailed listing of the formation of their marching in the desert along with the special flag endemic to each tribe[2].

When the Torah records the counting of each tribe, it begins by saying, “Lib’nei- To the children of-” and then proceeds to list the name of the particular tribe[3]. When the Torah mentions the final tribe to be counted however, the verse states, “B’nei Naftali- The children of Naftali” without the prefix, “to (the children of Naftali)”. The AriZal explains that when the tribe of Naftali was counted all of the other tribes had already been tallied. Since they were aware of what the final amount would be, once they had the tallies of the other eleven tribes, they could have calculated that there were 53,400 unaccounted for, which obviously was the census of the population of the tribe of Naftali. The verse alludes to this by stating “B’nei Naftali” as if to say that the population of Naftali was obvious and did not really need to be counted.

Rabbi Avrohom Schorr shlita[4] explains that this does not mean that the tribe of Naftali was not counted. In regard to Naftali the verse clearly states that the count was “according to the count of their names”, just as the verse says in regards to all of the other tribes. The wording of the verse has a different sequence of words to demonstrate that the purpose of the count was not merely to ascertain the population of each individual tribe. If that was the case, there would have indeed been no need to count the members of the tribe of Naftali. Rather, the point of the count was to instill in each Jew an appreciation of his personal value and uniqueness in the ranks of Klal Yisroel.

When G-d instructed Moshe to initiate the count, He instructed Moshe to “raise the heads of the B’nei Yisroel”. The count of the nation was inclusive of every single Jew; each was a vital component. It was not merely one collective group of 603,550 people. Rather, it was a composite union composed of 603,550 diverse parts.

My Rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, notes that we live in a world of profligacy where everything is replaceable. That attitude detracts from our ability to value and appreciate what we are blessed with. What’s even more detrimental is the fact that that feeling affects not only what we have, but how we view others as well.

The previous century redefined the notion of mass-murder. World War I, the war of attrition, was known as the “Great War”. For four heinous years, tens of thousands of young men were continuously dispatched to the war fronts to replace their fallen comrades in a senseless war of attrition. When the war finally concluded the geographic borders of the warring countries had hardly changed. Europe lay in ruins, millions of men were dead, maimed, and injured, and nothing had been resolved.

A scant twenty years later, Hitler embarked on a campaign to restore the pride of Germany. The ‘restoration of German ego’ would cost the world over twenty million lives. The Nazis were also experts in the art of human debasement. The concentration camp inmates were stripped of any identity, reduced to an emotionless number emblazoned into their arms.

Stalin and Communism purged millions of people to promote an ‘idea’, which ultimately failed abysmally.

By the conclusion of the twentieth century, well over one hundred million people had been killed on account of war alone.

Rabbi Wein also notes that we conceptualize the Holocaust merely as the destruction of six-million of our brethren, and it becomes one painful and horrible – yet bearable number. “Six-million” is a collective, yet sacred, number for a mere number has no face; it is only a representation. But in truth it wasn’t ‘six million’ who were killed, but rather one plus one plus one plus one, six million times over, the incredible tragedy of what occurred becomes unbearable and we are inconsolable. When we recognize that every one of those victims was a unique individual who was a world unto himself/herself and a member of a family and community, we can hardly come to grips with the magnanimity of what we have lost.

The antidote for a society which values accomplishment and material possessions above all else is through recognizing and appreciating the uniqueness of each individual. In our contemporary world, no one is dispensable or replaceable. No Jew has the right to think or believe that his mitzvos, his Torah, and his Service to G-d is not of paramount value and importance. After all that we - a nation that is relatively diminutive to begin with – have lost, the contributions of every member of Klal Yisroel are vital. That sense of value must be conveyed and appreciated.

Rabbi Schorr quotes the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch[5] that parshas Bamidbar is almost invariably read just prior to the holiday of Shavuos.

In explaining the connection between parshas Bamidbar and Shavuos, he quotes the Medrash which compares the Jewish People to the stars. In Tehillim[6], Dovid Hamelech writes, “Praise Him all the stars that give light.” The Gemara[7] notes that although all stars give off light, we are not always privy to that light.

The Jews are analogous to the stars in the sense that every Jew inherently possesses immeasurable light and innate greatness. But sometimes the inner light remains latent and hidden within. We must know that there is a soul within that is waiting to be discovered, and that it is incumbent upon us to find and utilize those capabilities.

The Gemara[8] explains the verse[9] “Those who bring righteousness to the multitudes are like stars” that “this refers to those who teach young children”.

Rabbi Schorr quotes his esteemed father, Rabbi Gedalyah Schorr zt’l, who explained that many people think teaching young children is an inferior occupation, some even view it as menial and unrespectable. The Gemara compares teachers to stars to symbolize the connection between them. A star appears small and insignificant to the naked eye, although in reality it is a massive ball of illuminating light. So too, teachers of young children - even if they themselves are not wary of the greatness of their efforts -are analogous to that penetrating light. Not only are they themselves an illuminating light, they also foster and reveal the light that emerges from their disciples.

In a similar vein, Shem MiShmuel notes that each Jew is compared to a star because each Jew possesses tremendous personal light and greatness, even if does not yet realize it.

The reading of parshas Bamidbar precedes the holiday of Shavuos in order to promote this idea. Before one can reaccept the yoke of Torah and mitzvos, it is imperative that he realize the value of his Torah and mitzvos. If one feels insignificant or valueless he will not be able to serve G-d with proper emotion, love, joy, and zealousness. Only when he realizes how pivotal he is can he properly accept the Torah anew.

When we teach our children Torah we must instill within them the value of their Torah study and their personal uniqueness generally. Sometimes it can be difficult to help a child realize his innate greatness, but that is the responsibility of every educator.

This idea is encapsulated by a beautiful quote I once heard: “All children are gifted; some children open their gifts later than others.”

“Blessed is our G-d Who created us to honor Him and He separated us from the erroneous ones and He gave us a Torah of truth and eternal life He planted within us”.

We are an incredible collective people with unyielding resilience and obdurate determination. But we are equally blessed as individuals with an exclusive mission and path of life.”

When we appreciate both of those aspects of our greatness- as a nation and as individuals, we can properly rejoice in the words we recite in the Yom Tov prayers: “Hashem, our G-d gave to us with love, festivals of happiness, holidays and set times for rejoicing, this day of Shavuos, the time of our acceptance of the Torah, a holy convocation, in remembrance of the exodus from Egypt!”

“A precise accounting of the stars”

“According to the count of their names”

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[1] Loren Eiseley, 1979

[2] Hence the secular title of chumash Bamidbar is “Numbers” in reference to the counting of the nation at this point and in parshas Pinchas.

[3] e.g. “lib’nei Reuven- To the children of Reuven”; “lib’nei Shimon- to the children of Shimon.

[4] Halekach V’halibuv 5761

[5] 428:4

[6] 148:2

[7] Pesachim 2a

[8] Bava Basra 8b

[9] Daniel 12:3

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