“Is This What the Torah Predicted?”
(updated and revised from B’ha’a’lot’cha 5762-2002)

by, Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

This week’s parasha, parashat B’ha’a’lot’cha, contains several interesting themes. Among them are: the lighting of the Menorah, the duties of the Levites, the bringing of the second Passover offering, and a description of how the Israelites traveled in the wilderness. In this parasha the Israelites depart from Sinai and journey to Moab, and encounter Hovav (Jethro), Moses’ father-in-law. Finally, after episodes of murmurings and rebellions, the 70 elders are selected, and Miriam is punished for speaking against her brother Moses. Quite a rich and colorful Torah portion!

Two particular stories contained in this week’s parasha are quite predictive of future Jewish history. Numbers 11 opens with the complaints of the מִתְאֹנְנִים the mitonanim, the murmurers. Immediately following, in Numbers 11:4, we learn of the אסַפְסֻף , the asafsuf, the mixed multitude who, according to tradition, were Egyptians who had joined with the Israelites and accompanied them out of Egypt.

The Torah tells us that the mixed multitude fell to lusting, and cried out, saying, Numbers 11:4-6: ?מִי יַאֲכִלֵנוּ בָּשָׂר , “Who will give us flesh to eat?” זָכַרְנוּ אֶת הַדָּגָה אֲשֶׁר נֹאכַל בְּמִצְרַיִם חִנָּם, אֵת הַקִּשֻּׁאִים וְאֵת הָאֲבַטִּחִים וְאֶת הֶחָצִיר וְאֶת הַבְּצָלִים וְאֶת הַשּׁוּמִים . “We remember the fish which we ate in Egypt for nothing–the cucumbers, and melons, the leeks, the onions and the garlic,” וְעַתָּה נַפְשֵׁנוּ יְבֵשָׁה, אֵין כֹּל , “But now, our soul is dried up, there is nothing at all!”

I feel strongly that the Torah is not only relating an historical incident that occurred over three thousand years ago, but is also predicting an attitudinal reality that reoccurs throughout Jewish history and even in our own times.

The Torah predicts that there is going to be a generation of Jews, of “dried-out” Jews, as we have today in America: Jews who will no longer identify as Jews, Jews who will be totally unaffiliated, Jews who will intermarry at astonishing rates (70% of the non-Orthodox). Non-Orthodox Jews, 85% of whom will attend synagogue no more than three days a year. The Torah predicts that there will be more than 625,000 Jews who will convert out of Judaism and worship other religions, and that one million Jewish children under the age of 18 will be raised as Christians or with no religion whatsoever. “But now, our souls are dry,” they say. “Our souls are parched, we have no connection to Judaism or to G-d. We feel no affinity to Shabbat or kashrut.” אֵין כֹּל –“Ayn kol,” “we have absolutely no interest in Jewish life!“

But, thank G-d, there is another group of Jews, also mentioned in this week’s parasha, the לָמָּה נִגָּרַע Jews. In Numbers 9, we read that in the first month of the second year after the Exodus from Egypt, the people of Israel celebrated Passover. Numbers 9:6, informs us that, וַיְהִי אֲנָשִׁים אֲשֶׁר הָיוּ טְמֵאִים לְנֶפֶשׁ אָדָם, וְלֹא יָכְלוּ לַעֲשֹׂת הַפֶּסַח בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא, there were some men who had come in contact with the dead, and were therefore ritually unclean, so they could not keep the Passover on that day. And, they came before Moses and before Aaron, and said (Numbers 9:7): ?לָמָּה נִגָּרַע לְבִלְתִּי הַקְרִיב אֶת קָרְבַּן השׁם בְּמֹעֲדוֹ, בְּתוֹךְ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵ־ל ,Why should we miss out from bringing the [Passover] sacrifice of G-d in its proper time, together with the rest of Israel?”

According to the Talmud, Sukkah 25a, these men were members of the Chevrah Kadisha, the Jewish burial society, who had been preoccupied with carrying the bones of Joseph to be buried in the land of Israel or had buried the sons of Aaron, Nadav and Abihu, when they died suddenly for bringing a strange fire to the Tabernacle. Therefore, these men were in a state of ritual impurity and could not bring the Pascal sacrifice together with the rest of Israel. They cried out and said, “We love Pesach!We love Shabbat! We love kashrut! We love keeping the laws of family purity. We love being Jews! Why should we miss out? Why should we be unable to celebrate Passover with the rest of our people?”

But, the truth of the matter is, that given the blandishments of America, even those who are strongly committed, even those who keep Shabbat, and even those who are strictly kosher, are not safe. Our children are not safe, and we are not safe. We are subtly, and sometimes not so subtly, being corrupted by the challenging environment. And, even those who abide by the strictest standard of kashrut, are subject to these negative influences. Is there a child, even in the most sheltered environment of America, who is not corrupted by the violence and the wanton sexual themes that are the mainstay of American entertainment? We’ve all been corrupted, and we’re all being reduced as Jews and as human beings.

We need models, inspirational models, aside from those “famous and popular” Jews who the worlds of entertainment and business put forth, and who often fall short of the types of people we should emulate. We need לָמָּה יִגָּרְעוּ Jews, Jews who not only love Judaism for themselves, and declare, “Why should we lose out?” but, who care for others as well, and proclaim, “Why should they lose out?” “We love Shabbat, we love kosher, we love learning Torah so much, that we want to make certain that there isn’t a Jew in the world who has not been exposed to Judaism’s beautiful and revolutionary ideas and traditions.

We need Jews who feel the passion of their Judaism so totally, that they will not rest as long as they know that there are other Jews who are deprived of the great treasures of their Jewish heritage. We need Jews who feel that their own Shabbat is not complete, unless their next-door neighbor’s Shabbat is complete. We need Jews who are prepared to serve as ambassadors, to engage the millions of Jews who are ignorant of their magnificent Jewish heritage, and who desperately want to be part of the Jewish life, but don’t know where to begin.

We, perhaps, are now facing the greatest challenge of contemporary times. We cannot deny the losses. Our actions, or lack of action, will determine whether there will be a viable Jewish community in the future. We can bring the “vanishing” Jews back, but we must mobilize our community.

The generation of the Holocaust was able to say, “We did not know!” What are we going to say, “We did not care!”? The Talmud (Sanhedrin 37a) declares, that those who save a single life in Israel are considered as if they have saved an entire world. We have an opportunity today to save tens of thousands of Jewish lives, but instead of sending out the luxury liner, we have been sending out row boats. We need to mobilize. We need to extend our hands and welcome our brothers and sisters aboard.

If the souls of our fellow Jews are dry, then we have only ourselves to blame. But, if we reach out and embrace them, we will prevail. And, as a result, with G-d’s help, we will usher in a bright, beautiful and productive Jewish future.

May you be blessed.