Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Numbers Pinchas Verses 25:10-30:1

Unfortunately, this is my final post before I leave for camp. There will be no blog posts from July 4th to August 15th. I promise to write a blog about all the wonderful things I expect will happen at camp as soon as I can when I return. The camp is a Jewish camp in upstate New York that especially highlights the importance of Israel, teamwork, and friendship.

Anyways our Torah portion begins like many others in the book of Numbers, with Moses talking to God in the desert. In the beginning, God is talking about Aaron's grandson, Phineas (or in Hebrew Pinchas). Phineas chose to show passion to God rather than hostility going against peer pressure like Joshua. As a result, any descendant of Phineas shall be a powerful person in the Israelite nation. Then, the Lord asks Moses and Aaron to take a census of the people. Each tribe is counted. Judah had the largest population and the smallest tribe were the descendants of Simeon. Finally, God describes the different sacrifices necessary for various festive periods.

Although, a census provides decent information it got me thinking, "What is in numbers?" Strength is good in numbers, knowledge collaborates. Unfortunately, delegations is not always easy in large groups. Imagine being Barrack Obama, Benjamin Netanyahu, or even Michael Bloomberg. Leading has its rewards, but it is a tiring position.

Who is the leader of the Israelites? Some would say Moses, but they would be wrong. Aaron? Nope! Maybe even Joshua? Or even the newly mentioned Phineas? No, no, and no. God is the only leader of the Jewish people. Every person mentioned previously is a messenger of God. As Jews, we are all messengers of God. We show the world what we believe.

Jews are minuscule in numbers compared to Christianity or Islam. This used to bother me. I pictured myself as an ant in a world of people who were different. Not that I did not like the diversity, but I just wished there were more Jews whom I would have a large commonality with. Hitler's answer was to get rid of people in large quantities. Our mission is to add people.

Here is Judaism by the numbers. We have 13.3 million Jewish people. 37% live in Israel. The largest numbers of Jews per country is United States,Israel, and then France. 50.4% of the Jews in the world primarily speak English. Tel Aviv is the largest Jewish city in the world, followed by New York.

I thank for providing me with very detailed statistics.

Now that we know the numbers, I say who cares? Numbers are for adding, subtracting, and doing taxes. The only Numbers I care about is the book in the Torah. I said we should add people. Add people? It is true! People do not even reveal their Jewish side to the world. Imagine a world where Jews flock to synagogue or fill their homes with prayer. Then maybe Jacob's big football game or Sarah's dance, won't be scheduled on a Friday night. It is a dream, but only we, the Jews can show passion for God rather than hostility.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Numbers Balak Verses 22:2-25:9

Balak is probably my favorite story outside of Genesis and Exodus. Mostly because it is an actual story. It has the same kind of spirit that the first two books are full of. Also, it is understandable, yet complicated.

Our story starts off away from the Israelites for a change. We are hearing the news of another Israelite victory. Last year, I talked about the very opposite main characters. Balak is a king who is out to destroy the Israelites. Balaam is an average Joe who believes in God. Balak is worried that the 12 tribes will attack his land. He asks Balaam to ask God to curse the Israelite nation.

There is another scene that is a little random in the Parshat. Balaam is with the donkey he has always ridden. The donkey sees an angel. Suddenly, the donkey begins to talk and try to tell Balaam of the angel. Balaam can not see the angel, so he beats the donkey. After three beatings, God reveals the angel to Balaam. Some may call it a symbol of how humans get angry too easily, but others may call it the Torah's only instance of comic relief.

Anyways, Balak is furious at Balaam. Each time Balak has sent Balaam to ask the Lord for the curse, God rejects him. Even when Balak offers Balaam a world of riches and luxuries, Balaam simply says he can not control the decisions of God. In the end, Balaam gets God to bless Israel three times.

Let us return to why Balak did this in the first place. He feared the power of the Israelites. In the fear of his own downfall, Balak tries to curse them into their downfall. Why do we fear anything that is different?

Balak illustrates the savage result of ignorance. We think Balak is just a villain in a story, but our antagonist is not far fetched from a modern day person. Anything new is bad. Different is dangerous. Eccentric is evil! The donkey got a whacked for trying to perform an act of good. Sometimes I feel the world whacks us down when angels appear.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Numbers Korach Verses 16:1-18:32

I am going to be honest with all of my readers and say I have not read one page of the Torah this week. About an hour ago, one of the worst hours of my life began. As I come out of it, I figured, I could do Shabbat or I could take my anger out on what I love the most about my life. I should probably explain.

Geography ended and I was psyched to be running for a Drama Club office. It was the end of the day on a Friday! The second to last Friday of school! Six people are chosen to be drama club officers, a president, a vice president, a treasurer, a secretary, and two sentinels. Prepared with speeches, I had confidence a mile high. I ran for all six offices hoping to have authority on another favorite asset of my life. When the voting began, frankly democracy sometimes sucks.

At 3:45 p.m., I realized I had lost each office. It felt awful. My mind raced. First, I of course blamed it on the people who beat me. That would not have been right. Then, I blamed it on the facilitator of the election. That would not have been right. After that, I blamed God. That was certainly not right. I left the school knowing that there was no one to blame.

Walking home was the most difficult part. 15 minutes of pure torture. Luckily, I had two of my best friends to guide me through. Emma and Cassidy made me feel comfortable. I got out the door and I had to wait. They were still inside. To prevent myself from being envious (Commandment 9), I left the club as soon as elections were over. When they got outside, they gave me a big hug. They made me feel like someone cared. Two someones.

I got home and I still felt like yesterday's trash. The seal of recovery was about to fall asleep on the couch. My dad was the aid to my problem. We talked and by the end of the talk I was not thinking "It's been an hour and I have still lost", I thought "It is getting late and I have not done my blog yet."

Moping around would not do me any good. I am alive, have a healthy family, and hopefully God will forgive me in doubting the Lord. What does this have to do with Numbers Parshat Korach? Probably nothing, but I felt I needed to tell someone. Why not tell the world?

Friday, June 04, 2010

Numbers Sh'lach Verses 13:1-15:41

I apologize for not writing lately. Life in spring is as hectic. Weeks 5,6, and 7 of the Omer have passed. I will continue to write each week until I leave for מןש קיץ (summer camp).

We find ourselves distressed by the choices of the Israelites...again. After about two years in the desert, they reach the Promised Land. Upon entering, men from each tribe are sent to scout the land by Adonai. Everything is splendid in Canaan, but then the Israelites do not think. The men come back and spread news that larger civilizations dwell in the land. Ones that could rise up and destroy them as a nation. That small group turns into all the Israelites. Two of the men do not tell the negative side of the story, Joshua and Caleb. Other than this pair, God's chosen people are doubting the Lord's choice. Why would God choose the wrong "Promised Land"?

The Israelites are so close. They have tasted the grapes, pomegranates, and figs of the Promised Land. Cries go up to God pleading not to go to the land flowing with milk and honey. A trifle want to return to Egypt. God cannot believe what is being spoken. In anger, God does not allow anybody into the Promised Land. Egypt's liberated generation has betrayed their Lord. God sentence them to forty years of wandering in the Middle Eastern deserts. One year for each day the men scouted the beautiful land that they came so close to. Every Israelite from this generation shall perish in wandering, except Joshua and Caleb.

Joshua and Caleb are the Torah's lesson in dealing with peer pressure. They resist the temptation to doubt the word of God. Not even Moses and Aaron were successful in their lifetime. Middle school is like the headquarters of Peer Pressure International. I know that on occasion I have been a Moses or an Aaron. Luckily, I aspire to be Joshua and Caleb. Strong people who know what is right and what is wrong. Contrary to Pinocchio, no cricket is going to tell you what is bad. Just remember giving into peer pressure could lead down the path to forty years of wandering.