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Bamidbar

Parshat Bamidbar (“In the wilderness”) – Numbers 1:1 – 4:20

We now enter the fourth book of the Five Books of Moses – Bamidbar. Its construction is divided into three parts:

A. The period spent in the Wilderness of Sinai1 ( Chapters 1-10)

B. From the Wilderness of Sinai to Kadesh-barnea ( 11-20:13)

C. From Kadesh-barnea to the Plains of Moab (20:14-36:13)

The above headings point out the geographical location of each section. The first deals with the sojourn of the children of Israel in the Sinai wilderness and uses the phrase "the Wilderness of Sinai" seven times (1:1, 19; 3:4, 14; 9:1, 5; 10:12), a number you’ll remember from last week’s list of the significance of the number “7”. The other two units speak of events which took place at different points on the way to the land of Israel.

The three sections also vary in content and style. The first relates the structure of the Israelite camp and how it was to move through the desert. The section is static in character and contains no stories. The second, by contrast, is extremely dynamic and presents a series of narratives --seven in all – (again there’s that number 7) containing the complaints the children of Israel made to God and Moses. The transition from the second section to the third describes the deaths of Miriam and Aaron and relates the decree passed upon Moses, that he would not enter the Land.

The passing of the leaders is the Bible's way to exit the stories of the generation of those who left Egypt at the Exodus and to move on to their children. The third section opens with the journey from Kadesh-barnea towards Israel, recounting the victory over the Canaanites of Arad; this marks the transition to the younger generation, the generation that will enter the Land and conquer it.

Numbers: Contents and Characteristics

The book of Numbers is known in Hebrew as Bamidbar (In The Wilderness). The books of the Pentateuch are usually named for the first distinctive word in their first verse; Bamidbar occurs relatively late -- it is the fifth word of the verse. However, considering the content of the book, it is appropriately named.

The first part of the Book deals with the procedures for transporting the Sanctuary, setting it up again after moving in the desert, and protecting its sanctity. Therefore, included in these chapters are laws relating to the Kohanim (priests) and to the sanctity of the people, such as sending unclean people out of the camp (5:1-4), the ritual done to a woman suspected of adultery (5:11-31) and the making of a Nazirite (6:1-21) -- both to be performed by a priest -- and the blessing uttered by the Kohanim (6:22-27). The frequent duplication in Chapters 1-4 and the long-winded repetitions which list the offerings brought by the head of each tribe (chap. 7) can be explained as signs of the vital importance of the Sanctuary and its service.

The second section is connected to the promise that we shall inherit the land. It relates the incident of the spies, a regression on the part of the people from this goal, but then cites some mitzvot (commandments) that are specific to the land of Israel, such as the meal-offering (minha), drink-offerings (nesahim), and halla (separating part of the dough as an offering) (15:1-21). In this section we would have expected a description of the people's march towards the Land, but the accounts of their complaints in this section indicate that they were not yet worthy of it. Only the third section will speak of their battles and early conquests on their path to Canaan.

This Week's Reading: The Structure of the Israelite Camp

At the center of this week's Torah portion we find the instructions for arranging the Israelite camp around the Sanctuary. At the entrance to the Sanctuary (Mishkan) dwelled the leadership -- Moses and Aaron -- and on the remaining three sides the three families of the Levites. The Sanctuary was therefore surrounded by a square within an outer square, that of the Tribes. The Levites were a buffer between the Sanctuary and the Israelites.

This arrangement was of fundamental significance: The Tent of Assembly (Ohel Moed, generally treated as another name for the Mishkan) was meant to serve as the place where the unique revelation of God on Mount Sinai could continue. The giving of the Torah did not cease on Sinai, for God continued to teach laws to Moses from the Tent of Assembly. For this reason, Ramban explains in his preface to the Book of Numbers,, that safeguarding the sanctity of the Tent of Assembly was parallel to the various ordinances that were enjoined upon the people at Mount Sinai.

The German-Jewish Bible commentator Benno Jacob added that the Tent of Assembly was important not only as a place where Torah was given but also as a dwelling-place for God. God, as it were, was up in the heavens and the Mishkan brought His Presence (Shechina) down to earth so that He might dwell among human beings. For this reason the Levites were chosen for the service of the Sanctuary, since they were not tainted by the sin of the Golden Calf which took place after the Giving of the Law on Mount Sinai and therefore they still bore the impression of that original revelation. For the same reason, strict instructions were given for the organization and sanctity of the camp and for those who were to carry the Sanctuary on its travels, so that they should be worthy of God's Presence.

The organization of the Israelite camp also had functional importance. The census and their orderly encampment, which have military overtones, were intended to free them of the habits of slavery which they had acquired in Egypt and to take on some of the characteristics of a nation, including acceptance of duty and discipline. Living in the wilderness, which might have led to laxness and even mutiny, instead became a positive factor (Luzzatto, commentary on 1:3). Further military aspects such as counting everyone aged twenty and over because they were fit to fight, prepared them for the war necessary to conquer the Land (Rashbam, commentary on 1:2).

The Timetable of the Book of Numbers

The first section of the Book relates the initial journey of the children of Israel in the wilderness, marching confidently towards the Promised Land before they had been condemned to remain outside it for forty years. This section opens with a date, "On the first day of the second month in the second year of their exodus from the land of Egypt" (1:1) and concludes with one, "In the second year, in the second month, on the twentieth of the month..." (10:11). These mark the boundaries of the first section and indicate that it deals with the important events that took place within a period of only nineteen days. From this point of view, Chapters 7-9 do not really belong to the unit, as they relate to the first month of the second year (7:1; 9:1, 15), and so precede the section in which they appear by about a month.

The third section is parallel to the first. Once again, the people are moving towards the Promised Land, but the generation of the Exodus has died in the wilderness and it is their children who are now on the march. The time covered here is the fortieth year after the children of Israel came out of Egypt (20:28; 33:38).

The second section of the Book is not dated. Only one of the incidents included in this section, namely the episode of the spies, can be dated with certainty -- since it was as a result of that sin that the forty-year delay was imposed on the people (14:34). We can therefore conclude that thirty-eight years of the sojourn in the wilderness are not covered in the Bible. It would seem that the purpose of the book of Numbers is to relate the progress towards the realization of the promise made to the Patriarchs; therefore, it surveys the milestones on the way towards the conquest of the Land but does not deal with the thirty-eight years in the wilderness, when no such progress was made.

Story line of Parsha Bamidbar:

God directs Moses and Aaron to take a census of the male Israelites of military age, 20 years old and older. The census, which yields population figures for each tribe, totals 603,550. The Levites are to be counted separately, for a nonmilitary purpose.

Chapter 2 focuses on the organization, order, and physical layout of the Israelites’ camp, and of their travels in the desert. Chapter 3 deals with the substitution of the tribe of Levi for the first-borns of all the tribes in the role of religious functionaries. In Chapter 4, a census of the Levites is undertaken, clan by clan, in order to verify the manpower needed to perform the Levites’ various tasks during the period of wilderness wandering. The specific tasks assigned to the Kohathite clan are specified in the closing verses of our parashah, while the tasks of two other clans within the tribe of Levi are spelled out in the opening verses of next week’s Parashat Naso.

Big Ideas (most essential points, themes, etc.)

No long term mitzvot or commandments are given in this parsha. The religious patterns of the Israelites were only partially formed, and this desert period was an opportunity for the collective religious identity of the Israelites to take shape. The desert experience was never intended to delay the religious growth of the people; to the contrary, it was a unique religious opportunity. The revelation at Mount Sinai was an important beginning, but a people will not be shaped by a single momentary experience, no matter how lofty, without ongoing follow-up.

The significance of the census- the second of many that will be taken, underscores the importance of each individual Israelite. Yes, they are becoming a nation – but it is a nation comprised of individuals and each one is valuable.

According to Rabbi Aharon Yaakov Greenberg in his work Bet Aharon cited in Ittueri Torah, every Jew must know and think that he is unique in the world, and there was never anyone exactly like him; had there been someone just like him, there would have been no need for him. Indeed, every single person is someone new in the world, and it is his duty to improve all his ways, until all of Israel has attained perfection.

Contemporary interpreter Rabbi Yehudah Nachshoni says the purpose of the census is for self-examination.

In the Mishna Sanhedrin 4:5, we read, [Only one human being was first created] to proclaim the greatness of the Holy Blessed One, for a man stamps many coins with one die and they are all alike one with the other, but the King of kings of kings, the Holy Blessed One, has stamped all humanity with the die of the first human being and yet not one of them is like his fellow.

The Tanhuma (Pinchas 10) tells us “Even as men’s faces are not alike, so their understanding is not alike. Each man has an understanding that is his very own.”

Ben Azzai taught: Do not disdain any person; do not underrate the importance of anything, for there is no person who does not have his hour, and there is nothing without its place in the sun. (Pirkei Avot 4:3)

From Rabbi Zusya of Hanipol 1718-1800 Poland - In the world to come, I shall not be asked, “Why were you not Moses?” I shall be asked, “Why were you not Zusya?”

And finally from the Lubavticher Rebbe,

In Hebrew, it's called Bamidbar ("In the Desert") and also Sefer HaPekudim ("The Book of the Countings"); in the English-speaking world, this is the biblical section known as "Numbers." And yes, there are many, many numbers in the fourth of the Torah's five books.

In its opening chapters we learn that one year after the Exodus, there were 603,550 adult Israelite males between the ages of 20 and 60, of whom 22,273 were firstborn; a separate census counted 22,300 Levites age one month and older (7,500 Gershonites, 8,600 Kehattites, and 6,200 in the Merrari clan). We are also given the figure for each of the twelve tribes, from Judah's 74,600 to Menasseh's 32,200. Then the Torah tallies the number in each of the four "camps" into which the twelve tribes were divided: Judah's camp, which also included the tribes of Issachar and Zebulun, totaled 186,400; the three tribes in Reuben's camp totaled 151,450; Ephraim's camp included 108,100, and 157,600 pitched their tents in the Camp of Dan.

Twenty six chapters and 39 years later we're still in the Book of Numbers and in the midst of another census. Again, we get the total figure (now 601,730) and the numbers for each tribe. We notice that Simeon has been tragically decimated (22,200, down from 59,300) while Menasseh's ranks have swelled to 52,700 (a gain of 20,500). But most of all we notice how G-d's passion for counting His people has not waned.

For, as G-d says to Moses, we're not just counting people. We're "raising their heads."

When a census is taken, the count will include scholars and boors, professionals and vagabonds, philanthropists and misers, saints and criminals. Yet each counts for no more and no less than "1" in the total number. The count reflects only the one quality they all share equally: the fact that each is an individual human being.

So is a headcount an expression of the lowest common denominator in a collection of individuals? The answer depends on how one views the essence of humanity. If man is basically neutral or worse -- if we all begin with zero and make of ourselves what we are -- than what unites us as individuals is indeed the least of our qualities. G-d, however, has a different perspective on the "huddled masses" of man.

As G-d sees it, the soul of man is a spark of His own fire -- a spark with the potential to reflect the infinite goodness and perfection of its source. Human life is the endeavor to realize what is implicit in this spark. Indeed, a person may lead a full, accomplished and righteous life and barely scratch the surface of the infinitude of his or her soul. Another person may blunder for a lifetime in darkness and iniquity and then, in a moment of self-discovery, fan their Divine spark into roaring flame.

So when G-d instructs that we be counted, it is an expression of our highest common denominator. On the Divine census sheet, our differences are transcended to reveal the simple fact of our being -- a fact which expresses what is best in us, and from which stems all that is good in us.

G-d counts us not to know our number (which He obviously knows), or even to get in touch with the quintessence of our souls (which He obviously is). He counts us to accentuate our soul of souls, to give expression to its essence and to make it more accessible to our material-bound lives.

Therein lies the deeper significance of the idiom "raise the heads" in G-d's instruction to Moses to count the people of Israel. When G-d counts us, He is stimulating the highest and loftiest part of our being, the spark of Divinity which lies at the core of our soul.”

From the recognition of each individual Israeli as a vital and important part of the collective, comes the notion of individual responsibility.

Once they had received the Ten Commandments, the people began to understand that life after Pharaoh would require them to take some responsibility. The construction of the Mishkan (portable sanctuary) supplies one focal point for religious expression. Further commandments were then given, fleshing out the details of a system based upon the Ten Commandments. Next week is Shavuot - the anniversary of the revelation at Mount Sinai, which symbolizes a commitment to understanding God’s will and then acting upon it.

The parsha elaborates the pattern in which the Israelites encamped in the desert and it was also the pattern in which they traveled. One reason for this configuration was the need to defend the camp against attackers. (The encounter with Amalek, narrated in Exodus 17:8-13 and Deuteronomy 25:17-18, makes it quite clear what can happen when defense is relegated to a back burner.)

We are told in this parsha “The Israelites shall camp each with his standard, under the banners of their ancestral house; they shall camp around the Tent of Meeting at a distance.” (Numbers 2:2)

And finally, the hazardous work of transporting the Mishkan – (We have already established that the ritual work of the Mishkan was potentially hazardous for the Kohanim (see Leviticus 10:1-2). The Levites were also at risk, particularly during the desert years, because they were charged with the responsibility of transporting the Mishkan and its sacred contents. The dire consequences of touching the Ark are clearly illustrated in the following incident, drawn from the time of King David (obviously post-desert):

They loaded the Ark of God into a new cart and conveyed it from the home of Avinadav which was on the hill; and Avinadav’s sons, Uzzah and Ahio, guided the new cart. They conveyed it from Avinadav’s house on the hill, [Uzzah walking] alongside the Ark of God and Ahio walking in front of the Ark…. But when they came to the threshing-floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out for the Ark of God and grasped it, for the oxen had stumbled. The Lord was incensed at Uzzah. And God struck him down on the spot for his indiscretion, and he died there beside the Ark of God. (II Samuel 6:3-7)

In light of these hazards, the tasks and responsibilities for work in these sacred areas had to be delineated clearly. Chapter 4 of Numbers provides just such a delineation.

Commentaries:

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, a 20th century authority, comments

that Bamidbar represents the Jewish people’s return to reality from the rather surreal listing of laws and practices in Vayikra (Leviticus). The Jewish people now must manage the relationship between the ideal of the laws and the practicality of their lives.

However, the lesson here is not one of uncertainty and anxiety. Hillel Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Learning Senior Advisor Rabbi Aryeh ben David argues that it is because they have been taught these religious guidelines that the Jewish people are now ready to begin traveling together as a nation.

The Sforno, a 15th century commentator, sees the naming of each tribe as stressing the importance of the individual. In the same vein, Nahmanides, the 12th century scholar, impresses on us the value of the individual, created in the divine image and unique unto him or herself. The Torah very easily could have told us there were 603,550 males over the age of twenty (Num. 1:46), but instead counts tribe by tribe. Each tribe is important and in turn, each individual is honored for his or her specific contribution to the nation.

From Rabbi Leslie Bergsen –

God commanded Moses to take a census of the Israelites just before the building of the Tabernacle (Exodus 30:11-16) and we are told that it has been accomplished (Exodus 38-25-6). That occurrence was only one month before this census is commanded. Why does God need the people to be counted so often?

Rashi comments, "Because they were dear to God, God counts them all the time--when they went out of Egypt, God counted them; when many of them fell for having worshipped the golden calf, God counted them to ascertain how many were left, when the Shechina (divine presence) was about to dwell among them, God again took their census, for on the first day of Nisan the Tabernacle was erected, and shortly afterward, on the first day of Iyar, God counted them."

Rashi's grandson Rashbam presents a more practical reason. The first census was to allow the people to make the half-shekel contribution to the Sanctuary. In this census, the people are preparing the military campaign to take the land (which indeed they would have done at once if not for the regrettable incident with the spies--stay tuned for Parshat Shlah in three weeks) and the purpose of this census was to count the men over the age of 20 for military service.

Ramban mentions these two reasons and adds that, this time, the people are counted by their names, and the census gives each member of the nation a chance to come before Moses and Aaron and be recognized as an individual of personal worth.

In the census before the Tabernacle, the people were counted as a nation. In this census, they are counted within their tribes. What might be the reason for the two different methods of counting? The Torah forbids the counting of Jews directly. Even today, when counting for a minyan we count "not-one, not-two..." or use a phrase with ten words, or count feet and divide by two. In 2 Samuel 24, King David takes a direct-count census, and as punishment, the nation is struck by a plague. The Talmud supposes that David thought the prohibition of direct counting only applied in Moses' time. Another explanation is that David did count the people correctly, but that he had no particular reason to conduct a census at all, and was punished for that.

A Word

Perhaps the reluctance to count Israelites, even when there is a good reason to do so, derives from the understanding that it is all too easy to make human beings into statistics. In recent history, the Nazis tried to dehumanize Jews by replacing their names with numbers. As Ramban points out, one of the features of the census in Parsha Bamidbar is that each person is counted, by name, before Moses and Aaron, and recognized as an individual.

From Rabbi Neal Joseph Loevinger (Kolel)

This is a fundamental tension in contemporary Judaism: Each of us must develop our own, personal journey of Jewish spirituality, and yet we are not alone in doing so. We are inheritors of a larger Jewish tradition, with all of its teachings and customs and different interpretations. There's no such thing as a Jew who just makes up a brand new Judaism for themselves, but rather we always exist as individuals in a creative, covenantal relationship with the larger Jewish community.

This creative dialectic between individual and community works in both ways: not only does the individual have to find their own "flag" within the larger Jewish tradition, but we must also recognize that the Jewish community is not complete, as it were, unless people are finding their own, comfortable place within it.

Judaism is not "one size fits all!" One person may become zealously observant of ritual practices, another person may devote all her energy to Judaism's vision of social justice, a third may find that studying sacred texts is the proper "flag" for his living Judaism.

As our commentary points out, it is only when each person finds their own "flag," or personal mission within the broader Jewish framework, that the Jewish people as a whole can find its "perfection," or ultimate potential.

The visual metaphor of the Book of Numbers is striking: Each person finds his or her place in a particular camp, and the camps find proper the relationship to each other--and only then can the entire people move forward, with the Presence of God "dwelling" in the middle.

I'd even like to propose Parshat B'midbar as a model for true Jewish pluralism: each individual finding his or her unique mission within the broadest Jewish framework, organized with like-minded people into sacred organizations, and each person and each community seen as a necessary, equal component of the whole. Only when we see that different people and different communities have their own sacred purpose can we move together on our journey.

Rabbi Leff

“The Torah records that 603,550 men of fighting age went out from Egypt. This is a very challenging number.  600,000 fighting men would extrapolate to a total population of over 2 million people wandering around the desert.  A rather incredible number, very hard to believe.

Surely 2 million people wandering around the desert would have left some kind of archeological record.  How could they all have been supported in the desert?  Questions like this lead some to say the Exodus never happened.

A critical approach to the text however, can lead us to a way out of this quandary.  As Gunther Plaut points out in his commentary on the Bible, the word "elef," in modern Hebrew the number 1,000, can also have another meaning.  It is not unreasonable to translate elef as troop, or platoon.  The same word with different vowels, is "ahloof" which means chief, or in modern Hebrew, general.  Instead, we could read the text as originally saying there were 600 platoons-perhaps with ten men to each-for a total of about 6,000 fighting men, and a total entourage of perhaps 20,000 people.  Later editors of the Torah, taking "elef" for thousand, not troop, made some editorial changes to make other verses consistent with this reading.

Twenty thousand people in the desert is a far more believable number. Twenty thousand nomads, living a low-tech low impact lifestyle, might not have made big troves of easy to find archeological artifacts.  Six thousand troops is consistent with what scholars say would have been a reasonable size fighting force in that day and age.

There are those who totally avoid the critical scholarly approach.  They say that analyzing the Torah in this way will lead people to lose faith in the validity of Torah, to lose faith in God. I disagree.  Knowing that there is a reasonable explanation to bring the numbers in this week's parsha into line with a more reasonable and believable figure, strengthens my faith in the Torah.  It strengthens my faith that the Torah contains a record of our people based on actual events, even though the details may vary, as in any story told over and over again for a period of a few thousand years.

May we all succeed in growing our faith in the Torah, especially this week as we approach the holiday of Shavuot when we celebrate God giving the Torah over to the Jewish people.  Whether or not all the details recorded around this event are accurate-whether it happened with lightning and thunder and Moses fasting for 40 days--is not nearly so important as the fact that it happened.  God gave us the Torah, and that is plenty of cause for celebration”

Another Commentary by The Lubavitcher Rebbe ZL

From the age of twenty and upward, all who are fit to serve in the army of Israel, you shall count them (1:3)

Moses' census of the Jewish people, defined as a count of "all who are fit to serve in the army of Israel," included only those who were "from the age of twenty and upwards." What is the significance of this requirement?

The fifth chapter of Ethics of the Fathers includes an outline of the phases of a person's education and life: "At five years of age, the study of Scripture; at ten, the study of mishnah; at thirteen, the obligation to observe the mitzvot; at fifteen, the study of Talmud; at eighteen, marriage; at twenty begins the pursuit [of a livelihood]; at thirty, one attains strength; at forty, understanding; at fifty, one can give counsel...''

In other words, the first twenty years of a person's life represent those periods and areas of his life in which he focuses almost exclusively on his individual growth: the acquisition of knowledge and wisdom and his moral and spiritual development. "Twenty" represents the point at which he ventures out to the world and begins to concern himself with the material involvements of life.

Therein lies the deeper significance of G-d's instruction to Moses that only "from the age of twenty and upwards" shall a person be counted as one "fit to serve in the army of Israel."

A period of intense self-development and spiritual self-enrichment is a necessary preparation to life, but it must not be seen as an end in itself. The purpose of the "pre-twenty" times and aspects of a person's life is for the sake of the "pursuit" which must follow: that he or she go out into the world and apply his personal attainments to the development and sanctification of the material reality. One who does not graduate to the "post-twenty" phase of life cannot count himself as a member of the "army of Israel."

Commentary by Rebbetzin Chana Bracha

AN AMAZING ORDER

"Every man of the children of Israel shall encamp by his own standard, with the signs of their father's house; at some distance around the appointed tent shall they encamp." (Bamidbar 2:2) In this week's parsha we learn that the camp of Israel has a clear defined inner structure, where everyone knows his place, purpose or mission. The Jewish people are enumerated and assigned their proper place around the tabernacle, containing the Holy Ark with the two Torah tablets. Each tribe is unified under the particular flag, which represents it. During the forty years of wandering in the wilderness, Israel encamped according to an amazing order around the tabernacle. With the ark of Torah as their center, they lifted their eyes towards the point of meeting between the infinite spiritual and the physical limited. They had a clear understanding that the spiritual must dominate their daily physical life, in order to sanctify it and allow it to fulfill its purpose. SURROUNDING THE ARK

As opposed to the Western linear approach, where the goal is to become number one, the tribes of Israel in the wilderness would encircle the Tabernacle. The consciousness and the heart of both the nation and each individual was focused on the center of the camp: the Tent of Testimony. The tabernacle was like a mobile Mt. Sinai, through which the word of G-d emanated to Moshe. The Chafetz Chaim compares the tabernacle to the heart. Since the heart generates life, its place is in the middle of the body, from where it sends the life force contained in the blood, to every part of the body. Every limb shares equally in this sustenance. Israel understood that the Torah is a tree of life, and everything derives its nourishment from it. In the same way that the tree of life was planted in the midst of the garden, we build the bima (pulpit) in the middle of the synagogue. Thus, we affirm our belief that rather than competing for importance and power, the power of the energy, which we receive from the Divine must be circulated equally among us. There is no question about who should be in the front or the back. All become one, when we surround G-d. This concept can be superimposed upon the relationship between men and women. When G-d is in our midst gender disparities will not turn into competition and strife. We will be able to overcome the power-struggle that breaks the circuit and blocks Divine energy from flowing through all of us.

Connections to our lives

What does it mean to say that each human being is unique? That no two people (other than identical twins) have the same DNA? That no two look alike? That no two think alike? Do you think that each person has a unique role or mission in the world that no one else can fulfill? If we take the idea of human uniqueness seriously, what does that mean for how we treat each other? What does it teach us about how we are to live our own lives?

What is the definition of humility? Humility is to know one's place. In this week's Parsha, the Torah describes the arrangement of the 12 Tribes in the Israelite camp. After a long description of who will travel first, and who will travel last, the Torah says: "And the Jewish people did exactly as they were instructed" (Numbers 1:54).

What's the big deal that everyone camped where they were supposed to? The Midrash explains that when God suggested the arrangement, Moses began to complain, saying, "Now there will be disputes between the tribes." Moses reasoned that once he starts specifying who travels in the East and who travels in the West, who is in front and who is in back, people will start arguing. If the tribe of Yehudah is told to travel in the East, they will say they want to travel in the South, and so forth with each of the tribes.

God tells Moses: Years earlier, at Jacob's funeral, his 12 sons carried the coffin. The way the sons were arranged around the coffin is the same way the tribes will be arranged in the camp today. In this way, everyone is already clear as to his proper place. So don't worry, God tells Moses, because when someone knows their place, there is inevitably peace and calm.

This applies to our relationship with God as well. The higher a person becomes spiritually, the morehumble he becomes. As we get closer to God, we become more realistic about our own limitations, vulnerability and mortality. We internalize the reality that every human's position is tenable and only God is eternal.

Moses was called "the most humble" because when he stood before God he knew his place. Anything else precludes room for God to fit in. That's why the Talmud likens arrogance to idol worship; both push away the presence of God.