June 17, 2024
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June 17, 2024
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Picking up on the first words in our parsha, “And Hashem spoke to Moshe in the Sinai desert…” the midrash (B”R 1:2) in our parsha records that in the prophet Yirmiyahu’s generation, the Jewish people were at a major low, overwhelmed by misdeeds. They were feeling so far from Hashem that they didn’t believe it was possible to come back and re-establish their relationship with Him. Hashem thought otherwise, and Yirmiyahu relayed Hashem’s message to the people: When I took you out of Mitzrayim, and took you through the desert, I took such care of you: I fed you the mann, I protected you with the clouds of glory and kept snakes, scorpions and other disruptions away from you; if the ground was too low I raised it, and if it was too high I lowered it. Why do you therefore now say you rebelled and thus can’t return to Me?

Hashem is seemingly telling the Jewish people: You may think I don’t love you anymore due to your transgression and how far you’ve strayed. But look at all the kindness I did for your ancestors when I took them out of Mitzrayim. Isn’t it therefore evident how ready and willing I am to accept your repentance with open arms and kindness?

However, we can ask that although the Jews in Mitzrayim were also steeped in impurity, those people were not yet the confirmed “Jewish nation,” but only once they accepted the Torah at Har Sinai. Thus, their misdeeds maybe can’t be compared to the misdeeds of Yirmiyahu’s generation who were bound by the Torah. So who says Hashem will have the same favor them, and thus why would they listen to Yirmiyahu!?

R’ Henoch Leibowitz explains the essential message Hashem was trying to impart to Yirmiyahu’s generation: You think My love for you and my willingness to accept you is dependent on your behavior, and therefore you don’t think it’s possible to return to Me. It’s not true: Look at how I treated your ancestors in the desert. Yes, you may have rebelled, but coming back to me is possible, and my love for you is unconditional much like it was for the Jewish people who left Mitzrayim.

In this same pasuk is the introduction to Hashem’s counting of the Jewish people. What’s the idea of Hashem “counting” us? Rashi explains that it stems from Hashem’s endearment of the Jewish people, and therefore, He counts them “at every moment,” as he counted them when they left Mitzrayim, when they fell with the golden calf, etc.

From where does Rashi infer that Hashem counts us “at every moment,” and moreover, this seems to contradict the fact that he brings only a few times where Hashem counted us! Perhaps we can explain: An episode like the golden calf was one of our greatest national fallings, but nevertheless Hashem “counted us,” indicating that we are so dear to him despite us straying so far. This perhaps shows that even in our darkest times, Hashem is there for us and still loves us. “At every moment” perhaps means that if even in the most bleak moments in our lives Hashem is there for us, loves us, and counts us, then surely “at every [other] moment(s)” as well he is counting us and is expressing His love for us.

Hence, perhaps this midrash and Rashi both expound on the same pasuk and share a similar message—namely, that Hashem’s love for us is unconditional. Yet, I was wondering why specifically our parsha is one of the places where Hashem counts us.

Usually suffering comes because of our misdeeds, as the Gemara (Brachot, 5) says, “If a person experiences suffering, he should introspect and examine his deeds.” Thus, perhaps this underlying message of Hashem’s unconditional love comes right after Bechukotai, which entails the “tochacha,” the punishments and sufferings, teaching us that even when things are tragic, Hashem is lovingly there, counting us, and waiting for us to return to Him.

Yirmiyahu’s generation were heavily steeped in transgressions, yet they wanted to come back to Hashem. We see from here that no matter where a Jew is holding, their essence is pure, and wants to come close to Hashem despite how far they have gone. It’s indicative in the Rambam (end of hil. Gerushin; see Chiddushei Halev, Vayikra) that even a “wicked” Jew deep down wants to be a good person and do the right thing. Additionally, although the Jews in Mitzrayim were so pervaded by impurity, the Ropshitzer Rav says that just their desire alone to bond with Hashem was so meaningful and important in Hashem’s eyes (Zera Kodesh, Va’era). Indeed, the sometimes subconscious but nevertheless fervent desire that a Jew has to bond with Hashem is in and of itself so meaningful in Hashem’s eyes, and thus is a hallmark of the purity of a Jew, even one caught in the depths of impurity. Even some “simple” acts show the essence of a Jew, as R’ Yechezekel Levenstein (1885-1974) says, “so many people go to Meiron on Lag Ba’omer, giving of their time and money to go there just for the sake of trying to come close to Hashem—this is a clear-cut proof of how much a Jew desires to bond with Hashem!” (Avodat Yechezkel, p.370). Rav Galinsky says, we say Kaddish for even the most simple Jew. For upon the passing of even a regular simple Jew, there is a tremendous gap and a chilul Hashem, and thus we say Kaddish—pronouncing that Hashem’s name should be great and sanctified, and thus re-instated.

Shavuot is called “Matan” (giving of the) Torah—focusing on the giver, which is Hashem, and is also called “Kabbalat” (accepting of) haTorah—focusing on the receiver of the Torah, which is us. On the one hand, Hashem’s love is shown in that he “gives” us His cherished and holy Torah to us people of flesh and blood, and our love is shown in “accepting” the Torah, showing how much we want to come close to Hashem.

Bamidbar is read right before Shavuot, which is the marriage between us and Hashem—the moment that demonstrates the eternal love that takes place between us and Hashem. Perhaps we can suggest the connection: The idea of Hashem’s unconditional love during difficult times precedes Shavuot, for the unbreakable commitment and love between us and Hashem is amplified in the context of failure and tragedy, since it’s those vulnerable moments that truly bring to light the extent of our yearning for Hashem and Hashem’s endearment of us, in that even though at times we may be far, Hashem is nevertheless there, waiting and counting.


Binyamin Benji can be reached at [email protected].

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