Parshat Bamidbar

Parshat Bamidbar

In this cycle, through the Torah, we will be taking a mystical journey. Our guide will be Rabbi Larry Tabick’s book, The Aura of Torah, published in 2014 by the Jewish Publication Society and the University of Nebraska. Translations of kabbalistic texts are by Rabbi Larry Tabick. Translations of the Torah and other commentaries are from Sefaria, except where otherwise noted. Translations of the Talmud are the Steinsaltz, William Davidson Talmud, on Sefaria.


Bamidbar 1:1

On the first day of the second month, in the second year following the exodus from the land of Egypt, the LORD spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the Tent of Meeting …


For Saturday


Naftali of Ropshitz, 18th-19th century, Ukraine

This teaches us about the holiness of the Torah, which comes from an exalted place to a lowly place, for even the lowest of the low is able to enter the service of God through the Holy Torah. And in relation to this, Scripture comes to tell us that the word of God was given in the wilderness, which is a very minimal place, a place where the “shells” are strong, as it is said, “[the wilderness] where there are venomous snakes, and scorpions, and drought, where there was no water” (Devarim 8:15), “not a place of see, nor of figs, nor of vines” (Bamidbar 20:5). Nevertheless, in this minimal, inferior place, the word of God was given. And there, the Tabernacle of the Shechinah and the Tent of Meeting [were erected]. For this represents the perfection of the Holy Torah, that it can spread out to the lowest and most unsophisticated and elevate every aspect. Even the most minimal may be raised by the Holy Torah.


Bamidbar 4:20

But let not them go inside and witness the dismantling of the sanctuary, lest they die.


For Thursday


Yoma 54a

Rav Ketina said: When the Jewish people would ascend for one of the pilgrimage Festivals, the priests would roll up the curtain for them and show them the cherubs, which were clinging to one another, and say to them: See how you are beloved before God, like the love of a male and female. The two cherubs symbolize the Holy One, Blessed be He, and the Jewish people.

Rav Ḥisda raised an objection: How could the priests allow the people to see this? After all, it is stated with regard to the Tabernacle: “But they shall not go in to see the sacred objects as they are being covered, lest they die” (Numbers 4:20), and Rav Yehuda said that Rav said: When the vessels were put into their containers for transport, it was prohibited even for the Levites to look at them. The prohibition against viewing the vessels should be even more severe when they are fixed in their sacred place within the Temple. How could they be publicly displayed?

Rav Naḥman said in answer: This is analogous to a bride; as long as she is engaged but still in her father’s house, she is modest in the presence of her husband. However, once she is married and comes to her father-in-law’s house to live with her husband, she is no longer modest in the presence of her husband. Likewise, in the wilderness, when the Divine Presence did not dwell in a permanent place, it was prohibited to see the sacred objects. By contrast, all were allowed to see the sacred objects in their permanent place in the Temple.


Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

The transition from relating to the Tabernacle as God’s holy Sanctuary, to dismantling it and transferring it elsewhere is not simple, and it even involves danger. The very heart of the difficulty, the most dangerous stage, is of course at the point of transition, and that is why the sacred vessels must be covered when the Levites come to take them …

As long as one stands at a distance from the sacred, as long as one does not touch it and does not deal with it, and it remains in its place in its existing condition, once can see the sacred and stand in awe of it. But what happens when one has to dismantle the sacred? How does one switch from the stage where everything is sanctified to the stage where the sacred must be carried on one’s shoulder?

In this parasha we have, in effect, a general acknowledgement that not every mind can bear. Not everyone can deal with the fact that what was once sacred is now voided of its sanctity … The truth is that this fundamental problem is not limited to the Tabernacle; it applies to the world of learning as well — to study in general and to the study of Talmud in particular.

The study of Talmud and Torah study in general is essentially a matter of breaking things down into their composite parts. The greater one’s ability to break things down, the greater the depth of one’s learning.

the more he delves into it, the less he understands. As he discovers more and more questions and peculiarities, the effect is cumulative: Things become increasingly complex.

Torah study is, in a sense a kind of battlefields. One takes a page of Talmud, cuts it into pieces, and reduces it to dust and ashes. One takes a halakha, which he knows exactly how to implement in practice, and begins to demonstrate that it is built on compromises … And for one who deals with matters of faith, the matter becomes even more complex than this. … After one begins to study, and the more one learns, the world does not become simpler and smoother. On the contrary, in a certain sense it becomes more and more complicated, more and more complex. What this means is that study entails a kind of traumatic process, a process of breaking things apart.

What happens later, when one wants to relocate the holy? How does the new location suddenly become holy? … How can one be exposed to all the questions and contradictions, and after all that, still relate to the subject with the proper awe and fear? … How can one question, take apart, demolish, and rebuild, and at the same time preserve the sense that one is in the realm of holiness?

In the Tabernacle, as it is so often in our lives, we dismantle in order to build. Something is uprooted from its place in order to be rebuilt more fruitfully in a new place. … “The destruction of the old is building.” (Nedarim 40a). 

Nedarim 40a

it is taught in a baraita that Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar says: If youths would say to you: Construct, and Elders would say to you: Demolish, heed the Elders and do not heed the youths, as the construction of youths is demolition, and the demolition of Elders is construction.

For Saturday


Moshe of Sudylkov, 18th century, Ukraine

That is to say that there is a hint here along the lines of what I heard from my master, my grandfather, namely, that sometimes when [a Hasid] goes to a tzadik in order to learn from his acts, the tzadik may be in a state of “smallness,” and [the Hasid] may receive some [inspiration] from him without realizing that there is [actually] a warning in it.

Something like this happened once when a man came to the famous master, Rabbi N. He say him drinking coffee at that time with his tallit and tefillin on, so he went back to his own house and did the same too.

Hence the warning “they shall not go in to see,” meaning, in order to see his acts and to receive [inspiration from] them, for immediately after this [the text says] “when they are dismantled” — that is, that there are times when [the tzadik] is in a period of “smallness,” when the holiness that is within him is “dismantled,” and thus “they die” — that is, [the people] fall from their level. [So,] they should not enter to receive [inspiration] unless they see that it is a time of “greatness”; then they should receive [inspiration] from him. Understand this, for when the knowledge of those who hear is limited, they do not understand.