There is a common joke among Jews that summarizes all of our Jewish holidays in one sentence: They tried to kill us, G-d saved us, let’s eat. It doesn’t quite apply to every holiday, but certainly Passover, Purim and Hanukkah fit the bill. And the statement certainly tells us a great deal about Jewish culture.
This weeks Torah portion includes the largest number of commandments of any other weekly portion. Beginning with Chapter 21 verse 10 and proceeding through Chapter 25, verse after verse is filled with situations and the rules of practice that are applicable.
These verses set forth guidelines to be followed by the kings of Israel, to ensure their righteousness and the absence of corruption in their kingdoms. Although, we no longer have kings, our political leaders would do well to follow these rules.
We are often witness to the fact that the nations of the world hold the Jewish people and the State of Israel to a higher standard. Frankly, in most cases, those nations are not really interested in placing Israel on a higher pedestal, but creating a basis for criticism against Israel.
Throughout their desert experience, the Children of Israel felt the pull to return to Egypt, and Moses needed to enable them to understand the advantages of freedom, which is accompanied by servitude to G-d. Therefore, it was critical that the Children of Israel be reliant upon G-d for their food and water and understand that simple food and water from G-d as free persons is preferable to watermelon and fish in Egypt as slaves.
On the 9th of Av we also read the book of Lamentations, that terribly poignant description of the destruction of the First Temple written by Jeremiah, an eye-witness to the events he describes.
Numbers 27:12-23: “And G-d said to Moses, Go up to this Mt. Avarim and see the land that I have given to the Children of Israel.” So begins a moving dialogue between G-d and Moses towards the end of Moses’ life.
The story of Balaam and his desire to curse the children of Israel is a fabulous one. At the request of Balak, King of Moab, he tries to curse Israel, but at each opportunity, G-d prevents him from doing so. Finally, without a choice, he blesses the nation of Israel in some of the most beautiful verses in the Bible.
This portion begins with two verses that set forth exactly who is part of the rebellious group: “Now Korach the son of Izhar, son of Kohath, son of Levi, and Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab, and On the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben took men. And they rose up before Moses, with a number of the people of Israel, 250 chiefs of the congregation, chosen from the assembly, well-known men.” (Numbers 16:1-2)