I write to you this week from Israel.
In this week’s Torah portion of Bamidbar, the Jewish people are commanded, while in the desert, to count a specific part of the Jewish population as they prepare for the possibility of war. This act of counting is why this portion is also referred to as “Numbers.”
Why does God, who knows everything, need us to count the Jewish people? Yes, God already knows the answer, however, there are several spiritual takeaways for the Jewish people:
When something is counted, this indicates that it is precious. Like a person who counts a coin collection, God loves us like a precious possession.
The counting of the Jewish people indicates a more profound preciousness since it didn’t matter whether you were a scholar, worker, holy man, or criminal. Despite differences, every person is counted equally.
Spiritually this divine census teaches that when we look at other people, we should strive to transcend superficial differences and look at the essence of the individual to find our basic goodness and divine spark.
This is especially relevant as we approach the holiday of Shavuos, which commemorates the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people on Mt. Sinai. To merit the revelation of Torah requires humility, and this can be accomplished by recognizing that, although we have differences, we are all equal on the soul level.
This week’s portion also highlights that during this counting, membership in a specific tribe of Israel was passed on son to son as an inheritance from one’s father (Numbers 1:4). This recalls the deep connection our forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, had with their sons which lead to the formation of the Jewish nation made up of the twelve tribes of Israel.
It is important to note that although a convert might not have a specific tribe, he can still fully function as a Jew. This teaches that one’s Jewishness (which is transmitted solely by one’s mother, Ezra 10:3) is more essential to someone’s Jewishness then which tribe they belong to.
Tribal membership played an important role in other areas. For example, property possession, responsibilities to serve in the Temple, and who held a legitimate claim to Jewish kingship.
Kingship was exclusive to the tribe of Judah. As it says, לֹֽא־יָס֥וּר שֵׁ֙בֶט֙ מִֽיהוּדָ֔ה “The scepter shall not depart from Judah” (Genesis 49:10). This is also the reason after King David was promised that he would never lack a son to sit on the throne, and why the promise was reiterated exclusively, to his son, King Solomon (1 Kings 9:5).
These passages teach three requirements for a person to be a king or in the future, the messianic king. The individual must be; Jewish, a member of the tribe of Yehudah, and a direct male descendant to Kings Solomon and David. Anyone lacking any of these requirements is disqualified from being the Messiah.
This poses a daunting challenge to the missionary claim that Jesus was the Messiah. In addition to not fulfilling the transformative events describe in the Tanach (Ezekiel 37), such as bringing world peace, gathering all Jews back to Israel and ushering in the universal knowledge of God, Jesus lacking some of the most essential hereditary requirements.
Harkening back to Greek myths, the New Testament claims that Jesus did not have a physical father. You can’t have your cake an eat it too. If Jesus didn’t have a physical father, he can’t claim to be from the tribe of Judah and is therefore automatically disqualified as the Messiah.
Even though Judaism believes in a messianic king, this individual will not be divine or worshiped. As we learn in this week portion, we are each unique and equal in God’s eye. The primary role of the Messiah will to lead and join us in a more perfect service of God.
Blessing from the Holy Land and Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz