Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Torah Connection - Bamidbar

Now we start the 4th book of the Torah, Bamidbar (In the Wilderness/Desert), or as it is called in English, Numbers (alluding to the counting of the census).

The third triennial reading of Parshat Bamidbar begins with the same phrase as the beginning of the parsha:

God spoke to Moses in the Sinai Desert [and] said, 
Vayedaber Adonai el-Moshe bemidbar Sinai lemor.

There is a bit of a pun going on here.  Do you see it?

As I mentioned, Bamidbar means "in the desert".  However, the root of the word is the same as the word for speaking (medaber).    So one could translate the verse as "And G*d spoke to Moses in the Speaking of Sinai to say:"

I was wondering, with all the times that G*d spoke to Moses, how many times is it specified that he spoke to him in "Midbar Sinai"?  Well, thanks to Google I found that except for these two places, the only other place is in Numbers 9:1 (just 2 Parshas later), where the laws of Passover are given.  So we have this phrasing introducing the census of the tribes of Israel, a separate census of the Levites, and the laws of Passover.

What do the censuses have to do with the laws of Passover?  Note that we are almost at the holiday of Shavuot (The Feast of Weeks).  We count the 50 days from Passover to Shavuot in the count of the Omer. The counting of the days parallels the counting of the children of Israel in the desert.  And just as the counting of the Omer is divided into weeks, so the counting of the census was divided into tribes.

In fact, what is it that we celebrate on Shavuot?  It is the giving of the Torah - the Tablets of the Covenant - on Mount Sinai. In Hebrew the Ten Commandments are "Aseret HaDibrot" - The Ten Speakings - same root! Now we can read that same verse again, this time as "And G*d spoke to Moses in the Speakings of Sinai to say:"  In other words, the commandment to take the census was somehow within the Aseret HaDibrot = Midbar Sinai.  We know that the entire of people of Israel were present at Mount Sinai - men, women and children.  The census stands to affirm that each of them personally heard the Speakings and accepted his/her end of the Covenant.  Each individual counts!

Happy Shavuot!


  1. Nice!

    This re-interpretation might seem nonsensical, until you remember that, in Biblical Hebrew -- and in Torah scrolls to this day -- there were no vowel markings. So the difference between "bamidbar" (in the desert) and "bamedaber" (in the sayings) is just an accepted convention. The latter interpretation is kind of a stretch, in terms of what we can make the Hebrew mean, which is probably why the "desert" interpretation became the prevalent one. But the Torah is full of puns, and so it's quite reasonable to suggest that this double meaning was intentional.

    In fact, it's worth mentioning that the D-V-R root has broader application than that! "ledaber" (infinitive: "to speak") is one, certainly, as is "midbar" (desert) -- but there's also simply "davar", the generic Hebrew word for "thing". (Yes, in a real sense, there's a Hebrew connection between a "thing" and speaking about that thing. You say the word "chair", and a chair appears. Perhaps this comes from the notion of God speaking, and His words becoming tangible "things".)

    There are other connections, too, which would truly be a stretch for this Parsha -- such as "dvora", meaning "bee". It's also the name of the prophet Deborah. (Many commentaries have spoken about Deborah the military commander and her powerful stinger.)

    What you get right down to it, Hebrew is a truly marvelous language!

    1. Wow, I didn't even think of "Davar" and "Dvorah"! Cool!

      Re "Midbar", I actually thought of it with those vowels. That vowel pattern is parallel to words like "Mikra" (Reading), "Mishpat" (Sentence), etc.* So "Midbar Sinai" could literally read as "The Speaking of Sinai", with a clear reference to the giving of the Torah, without any vowel changes at all.

      * (also "Mitvakh"....)


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