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NUMBERS — 8:25 retire

NUM61 [Judah b. Tema] used to say: … the man of fifty is [of the age] to [give] counsel; Pirkei Avot, Perek V, mishnah 24. This too is implied in Scripture: The Levites were to start their training for sacred service at twenty-five, and actual work at thirty. But "from the age of fifty years," says Scripture, "he [the Levite] shall withdraw from the corps of the work and serve no more, but shall minister to his brethren…" [this verse]. How shall he minister to them? – – by giving them his wise counsel how they can best do their work, and so on. For (R. Bahya remarks) as the flesh grows too weak to bear the burden of physical labor as before, the intelligence grows clearer to foresee consequences accurately; then is he eminently suited to give counsel. And, says M'iri, "his advice will be sound; for good advice requires two things--human intelligence, and experience gathered in the course of time; as the ethical philosophers have said, the days must bring wisdoms." (Musare haPhilosofim, Frankfurt-am-Main 1896, I 10, 22 quotes in the name of Aristotle, "The days will teach you wisdom.") At fifty a man has already experienced a great deal, and his mental powers are yet in full strength… Thus his counsel is purified wisdom…" (A reverse interpretation has also been suggested: even at fifty a person should still have the good sense to seek advice when he needs it.)


NUMBERS — 9:11 lettuce

NUM62 Those who must bring the Pesach Sheni offering on the fourteenth of Iyar eat it on the night of the fifteenth with matzah and maror. See above, Parashas Bo, about the Pesach offering. As to the mitzvah of eating the Pesach offering with maror, several vegetables fall into the category of maror, but one enhances the mitzvah by using חסה (chasah), lettuce, because the term חסה very much resembles the word חס (chas), which means “pity.” By eating חסה (chasah) together with matzah and the meat of the Pesach, one is reminded how Hashem had pity on us when He redeemed us from the cruel Egyptians. Our hearts are awakened to reflect upon the many miracles that were done for us then, and we will speak of them at length and give praise and thanks for them.


NUMBERS — 9:11 Sheni

NUM63 The mitzvah of the Pesach [second--AJL] Sheni offering on the fourteenth of Iyar. Key concepts: The mitzvah of the Pesach offering serves as strong, clear testimony that the world has a Creator and did not always exist. Rather, it was brought into being by the Almighty on the date that is known according to the Jewish calculation. The Pesach offering testifies to the world's origins because when the Almighty took our nation out of Egypt, He showed us great miracles and wonders and altered the laws of nature before many nations of the world. Everyone saw that Hashem watches over even the physical realm of Creation and as absolute rule over all of it. From then on, all believed that the Almighty created the world ex nihilo, “something out of nothing,” in contradiction to all “natural” laws, just as at the time of the Exodus. He performed many wonders that violated the laws of nature. He split the sea for the entire Jewish nation to cross through it on a dry seabed. He then returned the waters to their normal state and drowned the pursuing Egyptians. Afterwards, for forty years as our forefathers traveled in the barren desert, He sustained them--an entire nation--with bread from Heaven. Since the fact that the world has a Creator is the foundation of our religion and our Torah, the Almighty wants every member of our nation to be able to perform the esteemed mitzvah of the Pesach offering. No one should lose out due to being far away from Jerusalem at the time of the mitzvah, or because of other circumstances that were beyond his control. Since the Pesach offering is such a pillar of our faith, if someone converts to Judaism between the first Pesach and the second, or a boy reaches the age of Bar Mitzvah during that time, the Torah obligates him to bring the Pesach offering on the fourteenth of Iyar.


NUMBERS — 9:13 guilt

NUM66 Jewish culture has long linked meat eating with the mood of celebration. A well-known Jewish aphorism (based on Pesachim 109a) declares: "There is no joyful meal [on a festival] except with meat and wine." To this day, mention a holiday meal to most Jews, and what immediately comes to mind are foods such as chicken, chicken soup, and gefilte fish, along with wine and challah. Some Jews assume that this aphorism mandates the eating of meat on the Sabbath and other holidays. In support of this position, they cite Maimonides' ruling that a person is obligated to rejoice during festivals along with his family and all those who are with him. "How is this done? He gives sweets and nuts to the children... and the adult eat meat and drink wine... and there is no joy except with meat and wine" (See "Laws of Holidays" 6:18). I understand this statement differently. Maimonides' insistence on eating meat and drinking wine was presumably directed at the large majority of human beings for whom meat eating and wine drinking were luxuries. In effect, he was telling them: "Don't be parsimonious on the holidays; although meat and wine are expensive, don't scrimp. Spend the money so that you and your family enjoy yourselves." However, to imagine that Maimonides would insist that someone who experiences unhappiness at the thought of eating meat must do so makes as little sense as expecting that he would force a child who disliked sweets to eat them or that he would instruct an alcoholic to drink wine on a holiday. For such a person, drinking wine destroys, rather than enhances, the Sabbath or holiday's spirit. [On the other hand, there is one annual holiday meal during which the Bible mandates meat eating: the Passover feast, at which every Jewish family is instructed to consume the Paschal Lamb (Exodus 12:21–27). So basic was participation in the eating of this lamb that a Jew subjected himself to the punishment of karet--which involves the possibility of premature death at the hand of God--by refusing to participate in this ritual [this verse]. It is, therefore, clear that Judaism in the past did not sanction a complete vegetarian lifestyle. However, Jews have not sacrificed Pascal lambs since the instruction of the Second Temple (70 C.E.), and so the issue today is a mood one (also, see the following paragraph, which cites Rabbi Kook's belief that in messianic times all sacrifices will consist of vegetation, not animals). Therefore, there is now no meal at which a Jewish vegetarian is specifically enjoined to eat meat.


NUMBERS — 10:9 trumpets

NUM67 Sound trumpets when offerings are brought in the Beis HaMikdash and during wartime. When an offering is brought, the person must concentrate his thoughts on the offering and keep his mind free of thoughts that would disqualify the offering. Similarly, his intent must be to bring the offering solely for the sake of Heaven--in order to fulfill a Divine command. In times of distress, too, when we cry out to Hashem for help, begging Him to have mercy on us and save us, our minds must be clear of all unwanted thought so that our pleas for help are sincere and focused. Accordingly, Hashem commands us to blow trumpets at these times, for man is a physical being and by nature, unless he is stirred, he is close to being asleep. As is known, nothing has greater power than musical instruments to stir emotions and awaken the heart. This is especially so regarding the trumpet, the loudest musical instrument of all. During an enemy attack, when we hear a trumpet blast our hearts are stirred to turn to Hashem and forget all other concerns. So, too, when we hear a trumpet blast when an offering is brought, it helps us to forget all mundane matters and focus all of our attention upon the mitzvah at hand.


NUMBERS — 10:31 know

NUM69 Thank those who work for you, particularly those whose efforts you may take for granted. For example, make known your appreciation to the cleaner who takes care of your house. Don't just make him aware of the things that displeased you. If an editor has improved your manuscript, make sure she knows how grateful you feel for that. Do the same for all those who perform services for you. Make sure they understand how much their help has meant to you. Thus, when Moses told his Midianite father-in-law Hohab (also known as Jethro) that he and the Israelites were journeying to the land promised them by God, and invited him to come along, Hobab refused, saying he wanted to return to his native land. "Please do not leave us," Moses said. "You know where we should camp in the desert, and you can be our eyes" [this verse]. Is there any doubt that Hobab left this encounter with the greatest leader of his age feeling understood and appreciated?


NUMBERS — 10:33 days

NUM70 Andy Warhol shrewdly commented that all of us are entitled to fifteen minutes of fame. Yet a brief, questionable notoriety is surely not what our tradition had in mind. Judaism emphasizes the lasting durability of a shem tov, opposing the fickle judgment of a bread-and-circus-loving public. "R. Simeon b. Yohai said: More beloved is a good name then the Ark of the Covenant, because the ark went before the Israelites for only a distance of three days [this verse], while a good name goes from one end of the world to the other" (Eccles. R. 7.1, 3). Jews think in terms of lifetimes. Thus a midrash explains Ecclesiastes's puzzling statement: "The date of death is better than the day of birth" (Eccles. 7:1). "R. Pinhas said: When a person is born, all rejoice; when he dies, all weep. It should not be so. But when a person is born there should be no rejoicing over him, because it is not known whether by his actions he will be righteous or wicked, good or bad. However, when he dies, there is cause for rejoicing if he departs with a good name and leaves the world in peace. It is as if there were two ocean-going ships, one leaving the harbor and the other entering it. As the one sailed out of the harbor, all rejoiced, but none displayed any joy over the one that was entering. A shrewd man was there and he said to the people, 'There is no cause to rejoice over a ship that is leaving the harbor, because nobody knows what will be its plight.… but when it returns to the harbor all have reason to rejoice, since it has come in safely'" (Eccles. R. 7.1,4).


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