The name of the fourth book of the Torah, Bamidbar, means “in the wilderness” (of the Sinai desert) and recounts the many stops on the journey and episodes along the way. This week’s Torah portion, Bamidbar, is always read on the Shabbat before the celebration of Shavuot (this year beginning on Sunday evening May 16 and concluding on Tuesday evening May 18).
One contemporary rabbi suggested a reason why: Both Bamidbar and Shavuot involve counting. The Torah portion begins with a census of the Jewish people. Rashi says God commanded a census again to show that every individual Jewish person is dear to Him.
In addition, we counted the 49 days of the Omer, connecting Pesach and Shavuot. These were days during which the People of Israel prepared to receive the Torah at Mount Sinai. They are days of spiritual refinement and anticipation in which we too prepare to receive the Torah again. Each day represents an irreplaceable opportunity to build on our knowledge and our devotion to Hashem, His Torah and mitzvot.
Rabbi Dr. Abraham Joshua Twerski, of blessed memory, used to say, “I wrote more than 60 books, but really I wrote one book 60 different ways.” His basic theme was the importance of self-esteem. He considered lack of self-esteem to be the root of all psychological problems, as well as addiction, marital strife, etc. (see “Rabbi Abraham Twerski’s Copious Blessings,” by Sara Yocheved Riger, Feb. 21, 2021, Aish website).
Rabbi Twerski’s life and work revolved around his belief in the greatness of the individual man or woman. No matter who they were or what they had done in life, he wrote and spoke of what each one could become. Every one was unique and precious in the eyes of Hashem.
My sister, Dr. Bryna Levy, speaking at a sheloshim tribute to Rabbi Twerski, pointed out that he wrote a well-known melody to the words “Hosheah es amecha” (bring salvation to Your people) and asked that it be sung at his funeral instead of eulogies.
My sister noted the poignancy of singing this melody and words in the midst of a pandemic — Rabbi Twerski’s life was dedicated to prioritizing the needs of others. She also noted that this entire 10-word Hebrew phrase is used as a way of indirectly counting if there is a minyan present.
How appropriate for a man who saw the worth of every individual! Every person in the minyan enables the congregation. We cannot afford to lose even one, and together we are stronger than all of us individually.
Bamidbar teaches us the significance of each person and Shavuot teaches us of the importance of every day.
Shabbat shalom and chag Shavuot sameach! PJC
Rabbi Eli Seidman is the former director of pastoral care at the Jewish Association on Aging. This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.