June 18, 2024
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The Haftorah and Parsha: Fruitful Parallels

The connection between parshat Bamidbar and its haftorah goes beyond the haftorah’s opening verse noting B’nai Israel’s future numerosity. Nor is the connection limited to the mention of מִדבָּר in  verse 16 of the haftorah. The haftorah’s structure mirrors the parsha itself.

As noted, the haftorah begins by reference to the future population size of B’nai Israel. It then discusses, in metaphorical terms, Israel deserting Hashem in preference for false gods and the resulting afflictions that will then accrue to the nation. The haftorah concludes by noting that Hashem will lead the nation into “the wilderness” where it will be reunited with Him and will “know Hashem.” Thus, the haftorah parallels the parsha.

The parsha begins with the counting of all the tribes, save Levi, and the camp’s organization. The parsha then explains that the tribe of Levi has been segregated out for the service of Hashem in place of the firstborns of B’nai Israel. This is followed by an enumeration of the families of the tribe of Levi. The parasha concludes by describing the tasks assigned to the Levitical family of Kohath. This family was assigned to transport the most holy of items: the Aron, the Menorah, table with the Lechem HaPanim and the two altars.

The first parallel is, of course, the references to B’nai Israel’s size. At the conclusion of the parsha, we have reference to the holiest of items in the Mishkan, including the Aron HaKodesh overwhich Hashem’s presence hovered. This aligns with the conclusion of the haftorah where we have a promise that in the future we will again enjoy a close an intimate relationship with Hashem akin to that which we experienced during the time of the Mishkan when we dwelt in the wilderness (וְעָ֚נְתָה שָּׁ֙מָּה֙ כִּימֵ֣י נְעוּרֶ֔יהָ וּכְי֖וֹם עֲלוֹתָ֥הּ מֵאֶֽרֶץ־מִצְרָֽיִם). In between, we have B’nai Israel abandoning Hashem. In the haftorah, the abandonment is explicit; in the parsha the abandonment is veiled.

The parsha reminds us that the Levites will replace the firstborn sons. The reason for the substitution is not stated here, but we know from elsewhere it is owing to the sin of the Golden Calf. Thus, we have a one-to-one correspondence: numbers match numbers, sin matches sin, references to the inner sanctums of the Mishkan where the Divine presence dwelt matches a locale where we will again encounter Hashem more directly.

Yet, the significance of the haftorah goes beyond its linkage with the parsha. Parshat Bamidbar is always read just before Shavuot, the day marking our hearing Hashem speak to the entire nation. We need to recall that not long after that theophany, the nation fell into sin. Furthermore, on Shavuot the world is judged regarding one of its major forms of sustenance, the fruit crop (Mishna Rosh HaShana 1:2). It is, of course, via a fruit that we first fell from grace and were expelled from Gan Eden. The haftorah, more explicitly than the parsha, reminds us that, similar to Adam HaReshon, we can exist in an ideal environment yet, nonetheless, fall into sin. Even so, after the fall we can still return to Hashem and He will be there to assist us with our return. The path to this return is through adherence to Torah.

On the holiday of Shavuot, when we recall the bringing of the first fruits to the Beit HaMikdash and the day when the fruit crop is judged, we have the opportunity to pledge to adhere to Torah and avoid those modern distractions that are our forbidden fruits.


William S.J. Fraenkel received a Bachelors of Arts in Religion and a law degree from NYU and served as a Board member and officer of several orthodox shuls. The opinions expressed in this dvar Torah are solely his own.

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