The Peace of all Sums (Bamidbar)
The multitude which is not brought to act as a unity, is confusion. That unity which has not its origin in the multitude is tyranny. -Blaise Pascal
The name of the fourth of Moses’ five books of the Torah is called Bamidbar in Hebrew, meaning “in the desert.” As with the four other books, it is also the name of the first Torah portion of its eponymous book. While one can’t argue with the fact or the appropriateness of calling the book which deals primarily with Israel’s sojourn in the desert, the Book of In the Desert, it is interesting that the translators chose to call it the Book of Numbers.
It is not entirely inappropriate, for there is a significant preoccupation with counting the numbers of the Children of Israel, both at the beginning of their desert journey as well as at the end of it, as well as some other counting and numbering going on.
One of the peculiarities that become clear in the counting of Israel is the hierarchy of different groups vis-à-vis access to and service in the Tabernacle. The Kohens have the preeminent role, followed by the Levites in a supporting role, and finally the rest of the tribes of Israel. The Chidushei HaRim on Numbers 1:1 discusses the importance and value of the different designations and separations. There are differences between individuals, families, groups and nations and it would be a mistake to look at or think of every individual as part of some universal, monolithic, amorphous whole. The identity, distinctions and roles serve a purpose.
However, when these disparate groups come together and unite while still retaining their distinctions and identities, that is when something truly special happens, that is when the elusive peace we are always seeking is possible. The Chidushei HaRim quotes a well-known Talmudic dictum that there is no vessel that can contain blessings for Israel except for peace. He adds that there is a hint in this dictum in the word “vessel” itself, which in Hebrew is “Kli.” He states that “KLI” is the acronym for Kohen, Levi, Israel. When Kohens, Levites and the rest of Israel are united, while still retaining their identities and their roles, that is when we create peace and that is when we can truly become vessels for bountiful blessing.
May we reach that unity, peace and blessings.
To Rabbi Daniel and Rebbitzen Ilana Epstein on their induction as the Rabbinic couple at the Western Marble Arch Synagogue of London.