PARSHA BAMIDBAR: MAKE YOUR LIFE COUNT
by Ariella Bracha Waldinger
“Count the heads of the congregation of Israel according to their families, according to their father’s houses, by the number of the names, every male according to the head count”. (Bamidbar 1:2)
Parshat Bamidbar is primarily about counting the people of Israel and recording the names of the leaders of the tribes. Rabbi Berel Wein in an article in Shiur Times, Shavuot Edition, writes the following commentary on this Parsha, “We the listeners of the parsha, know in advance that all those counted and named, with few exceptions, are doomed to die in the desert, never to reach the land of Israel. The Torah also knows this, so why did the Torah take up so much space recording the details?” Rabbi Wein states that he believes there is a great and relevant message to us and all generations of Jews. And that is that one should realize the tragedy of opportunity and inherent greatness squandered and brought to naught. Wasted potential is a tragic thing and in national affairs, it is the deciding weakness that dooms a people. The careful detailing of the names of the generation that died in the desert emphasizes to us the tragedy of what could have been and the failure to achieve that goal.
Implicit in Judaism’s idea of free will and free choice for human beings is the fact that the Lord presents us with opportunities. In His omniscience, He is aware of what use man will make of these opportunities. But as Maimonides explains, G-ds foreknowledge of the outcomes of our choices in no way influences or guides our abilities to make these choices. The generation of the desert did not have to destroy itself with its wrongful behavior and mistaken attitudes. It had an opportunity, because it was the Dor De’at—the generation of intellect and great potential—to build the Jewish state and Jewish People in a positive fashion.
Its tragedy, therefore, lies not only in its behavior of folly but rather in its failure to exercise its potential in a positive manner. Heaven apparently measures us not by only by who and what we are but also by who or what we could be. Opportunities squandered are much more painful and damaging than having no opportunities at all.
Our current state of Israel is a miraculous opportunity that has been extended to our generation. What we will make of this opportunity is the central question of current Jewish life and society. Hearing the names and numbers of the generation of the desert read this Shabbat should sober us and make us realize that such an opportunity should not be frittered away because of lack of vision, faith and will. We can ill afford another generation of the desert.
Speaking of missed opportunity and lack of vision, Rav Shlomo Carlebach in his Torah commentary on Beresheit, relates the story that the Rizhiner Rebbe told him on a Shabbat night. In the year 1490, the Jewish people in Spain got together and talked about buying the Holy Land from the Turks. They said, we are so rich, we can buy the whole land and rebuild it. The truth is in those days, the Jewish community in Spain was exceedingly learned and exceedingly wealthy and they had great power. So, they decided to send a delegation of three scholars to Turkey to meet with the Sultan and discuss it. In those days, it took six months to get to Turkey from Spain.
As soon as the delegation left Spain for Turkey, the community began to prepare to return to the Holy Land. In every city, they appointed committees to teach the Jewish people the laws of agriculture in the Holy Land. Not only that, but they started a Yeshiva for Kohanim in order to train them about the service in The Holy Temple. In 1491, the three men returned, the community met and were told that the Sultan agreed to sell them the Holy Land and that the sum of money he asked for was no problem, because they had great wealth. The Jews started dancing and singing songs of praise at their great good fortune. Suddenly, one old man got up and said, “If G-d wanted us to go back, why didn’t He send us a sign from heaven?” Someone responded, “Do you need a bigger sign from heaven than that we have money and the Sultan wants to sell it? We have done all the preparations, what do you need a sign for? This is the greatest sign from heaven!” But do you know what happened as a result of this old man’s words? There were now two sides. One said let’s go back and the other said let’s wait for a sign. So they decided to meet again the following year………..1492 IN SPAIN. They were supposed to meet again four weeks before Rosh HaShanah. There was supposed to be a big conference to decide if they should buy the Holy Land. Sadly enough, on Tisha Ba’Av that year, the Monarchy of Spain instituted the Inquisition and all Jewish money was confiscated.
Dear friends, this is a true story, a mind blowing story of missed opportunity of Epic Proportion. How many times have you missed out because you waited or couldn’t commit? Some say the greatest zechut of Avraham our father was that he did not wait…..he knew how to seize the moment. Be clear, The Land of Israel and all that it offers is our past, present and future. It is ours to build, ours to love and cherish and ours to fight for in the name of THE KING OF KINGS. Don’t be the one to die in the barren desert of disconnectedness and lack of ability to make good choices. Come and live your life in our Divinely Ordained Land. The signs all point to claiming your place in The Holy Land NOW. Waiting could be deadly! It has happened before!
May we merit the courage to act on our Torah convictions and return home to our National birthright. For those who have returned home, may we merit to make good choices that bring honor to our G-d and our nation and may we savor the Blessings inherent in the holy Land. Shabbat Shalom, Ariella Bracha
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