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B’ha’alot’cha 5762-2002

“Is This What the Torah Predicted?”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

This coming week’s parasha, parashat Beha’alotecha, contains varied and interesting themes. The parasha speaks of the lighting of the menorah, the tasks of the Levites, the bringing of the second Passover offering, and contains a description of how the Israelites traveled. In this parasha the Jews depart from Sinai and journey to Moab, they encounter Hovav (Jethro), Moses’s father-in-law. There are murmurings and rebellions, the 70 elders are chosen, and Miriam is punished for speaking against her brother Moses. Quite a colorful Torah portion!

Two of the stories contained in this week’s parasha are quite predictive of future Jewish history. Numbers 11 opens with the complaints of the mit’oh’nanim, the murmurers. Immediately following, in verse 4, we learn of the ah’saf’suf, 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, Numbers 11:4-6: “Mee ya’achi’lay’nu basar,” Who will give us flesh to eat? “Zah’char’nu et ha’dagah asher noh’chal b’Mitzrayim chee’nam, ait ha’kee’shu’im, v’ait ha’ava’tee’chim, v’et heh’cha’tzeer, v’et ha’b’tzalim, v’et ha’shumim.” We remember the fish which we ate in Egypt for nothing–the cucumbers, and melons, the leeks, the onions and the garlic. “V’ahtah naf’shaynu y’vay’sha, ain kol,” But now our soul is dried up, there is nothing at all!

The Torah predicts that there is going to be a generation of Jews, of dried out Jews, as we have in America: There will be 6 million Jews, of whom, 2 million who will no longer identify as Jews, another 2 million who will be totally unaffiliated, and 52% will intermarry. Of the 2 million who are affiliated, 1.5 million of them are non-Orthodox, and of those only 85% attend synagogue only three days a year. The Torah predicts that there will be 625,000 Jews who will convert out of Judaism and worship other religions, and that 1 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.” “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 “Lah’mah nee’garah” Jews. In Chapter 9 of Numbers, 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, “Va’y’hee ah’nashim asher hah’yoo t’may’im l’nefesh adam, v’lo yach’lu la’ah’sot ha’Passach bah’yom hah’hoo.” But there were certain men who were unclean by the dead body of a human being, so they could not keep the Passover on that day. And they came before Moses and before Aaron. And they said (Numbers 9:7): “Lah’mah nee’gah’rah l’vil’tee ha’kriv et korban Hashem b’mo’ado, b’toch b’nai Yisrael?” Why should we miss out from bringing the sacrifice of G-d in its proper time, together with the rest of Israel?

According to tradition, these men were Jews who were perhaps members of the Chevrah Kadisha, the Jewish burial society, and, suggests the midrash, had been preoccupied with burying Tzelafchad, who was put to death for gathering wood on Shabbat. Therefore, they 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 Pessach! We love Shabbat! We love kashrut! We love keeping the laws of family purity. We love being Jews! Why should we miss out? Why are we 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 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 challenges of our environment, by Aids and condoms and O.J. Simpson and Monica Lewinsky. 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’s not heard about these things, or not been exposed to them? We’ve been corrupted, and we’re being reduced as Jews and as human beings. We need models, inspirational models, aside from Woody Allen, Amy Fisher, and Roseanne Barr. We need “lah’mah nee’garah” Jews, Jews who not only feel, “Why should we lose out?” but, “Why should others lose out?” We love Shabbat. We love kosher. We love learning Torah so much that we want to make sure that there isn’t a Jew in the world who isn’t exposed to these 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 this great treasure. 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 be ambassadors, to reach out to the millions of Jews who are ignorant of their heritage, and who desperately want to be part of the Jewish tradition, but don’t know where to start.

We are now, perhaps, facing our greatest challenge. 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 them 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 he who saves a single life in Israel is considered as if he has 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, we will prevail. And with G-d’s help, we will prevail, and usher in a bright and beautiful and productive Jewish future.

May you be blessed.