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"For Instruction shall come forth from Zion, The word of the L-rd from Jerusalem." -- Isaiah 2:3


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NUMBERS — 8:25 retire

[Judah b. Tema] used to say: … the man of fifty is [of the age] to [give] counsel; Pirkei Avot, Perek V, mishnah 24. This too is implied in Scripture: The Levites were to start their training for sacred service at twenty-five, and actual work at thirty. But "from the age of fifty years," says Scripture, "he [the Levite] shall withdraw from the corps of the work and serve no more, but shall minister to his brethren…" [this verse]. How shall he minister to them? – – by giving them his wise counsel how they can best do their work, and so on. For (R. Bahya remarks) as the flesh grows too weak to bear the burden of physical labor as before, the intelligence grows clearer to foresee consequences accurately; then is he eminently suited to give counsel. And, says M'iri, "his advice will be sound; for good advice requires two things--human intelligence, and experience gathered in the course of time; as the ethical philosophers have said, the days must bring wisdoms." (Musare haPhilosofim, Frankfurt-am-Main 1896, I 10, 22 quotes in the name of Aristotle, "The days will teach you wisdom.") At fifty a man has already experienced a great deal, and his mental powers are yet in full strength… Thus his counsel is purified wisdom…" (A reverse interpretation has also been suggested: even at fifty a person should still have the good sense to seek advice when he needs it.)

NUMBERS — 9:13 guilt

Jewish culture has long linked meat eating with the mood of celebration. A well-known Jewish aphorism (based on Pesachim 109a) declares: "There is no joyful meal [on a festival] except with meat and wine." To this day, mention a holiday meal to most Jews, and what immediately comes to mind are foods such as chicken, chicken soup, and gefilte fish, along with wine and challah. Some Jews assume that this aphorism mandates the eating of meat on the Sabbath and other holidays. In support of this position, they cite Maimonides' ruling that a person is obligated to rejoice during festivals along with his family and all those who are with him. "How is this done? He gives sweets and nuts to the children... and the adult eat meat and drink wine... and there is no joy except with meat and wine" (See "Laws of Holidays" 6:18). I understand this statement differently. Maimonides' insistence on eating meat and drinking wine was presumably directed at the large majority of human beings for whom meat eating and wine drinking were luxuries. In effect, he was telling them: "Don't be parsimonious on the holidays; although meat and wine are expensive, don't scrimp. Spend the money so that you and your family enjoy yourselves." However, to imagine that Maimonides would insist that someone who experiences unhappiness at the thought of eating meat must do so makes as little sense as expecting that he would force a child who disliked sweets to eat them or that he would instruct an alcoholic to drink wine on a holiday. For such a person, drinking wine destroys, rather than enhances, the Sabbath or holiday's spirit. [On the other hand, there is one annual holiday meal during which the Bible mandates meat eating: the Passover feast, at which every Jewish family is instructed to consume the Paschal Lamb (Exodus 12:21–27). So basic was participation in the eating of this lamb that a Jew subjected himself to the punishment of karet--which involves the possibility of premature death at the hand of G-d--by refusing to participate in this ritual [this verse]. It is, therefore, clear that Judaism in the past did not sanction a complete vegetarian lifestyle. However, Jews have not sacrificed Pascal lambs since the instruction of the Second Temple (70 C.E.), and so the issue today is a mood one (also, see the following paragraph, which cites Rabbi Kook's belief that in messianic times all sacrifices will consist of vegetation, not animals). Therefore, there is now no meal at which a Jewish vegetarian is specifically enjoined to eat meat.

NUMBERS — 10:31 know

Thank those who work for you, particularly those whose efforts you may take for granted. For example, make known your appreciation to the cleaner who takes care of your house. Don't just make him aware of the things that displeased you. If an editor has improved your manuscript, make sure she knows how grateful you feel for that. Do the same for all those who perform services for you. Make sure they understand how much their help has meant to you. Thus, when Moses told his Midianite father-in-law Hohab (also known as Jethro) that he and the Israelites were journeying to the land promised them by G-d, and invited him to come along, Hobab refused, saying he wanted to return to his native land. "Please do not leave us," Moses said. "You know where we should camp in the desert, and you can be our eyes" [this verse]. Is there any doubt that Hobab left this encounter with the greatest leader of his age feeling understood and appreciated?

NUMBERS — 10:33 days

Andy Warhol shrewdly commented that all of us are entitled to fifteen minutes of fame. Yet a brief, questionable notoriety is surely not what our tradition had in mind. Judaism emphasizes the lasting durability of a shem tov, opposing the fickle judgment of a bread-and-circus-loving public. "R. Simeon b. Yohai said: More beloved is a good name then the Ark of the Covenant, because the ark went before the Israelites for only a distance of three days [this verse], while a good name goes from one end of the world to the other" (Eccles. R. 7.1, 3). Jews think in terms of lifetimes. Thus a midrash explains Ecclesiastes's puzzling statement: "The date of death is better than the day of birth" (Eccles. 7:1). "R. Pinhas said: When a person is born, all rejoice; when he dies, all weep. It should not be so. But when a person is born there should be no rejoicing over him, because it is not known whether by his actions he will be righteous or wicked, good or bad. However, when he dies, there is cause for rejoicing if he departs with a good name and leaves the world in peace. It is as if there were two ocean-going ships, one leaving the harbor and the other entering it. As the one sailed out of the harbor, all rejoiced, but none displayed any joy over the one that was entering. A shrewd man was there and he said to the people, 'There is no cause to rejoice over a ship that is leaving the harbor, because nobody knows what will be its plight.… but when it returns to the harbor all have reason to rejoice, since it has come in safely'" (Eccles. R. 7.1,4).

NUMBERS — 10:36 thousands

R. Dostai expounded: And when it rested, he said"" -- This teaches us that the Shechinah does not rest upon fewer than two thousand and two ten thousands of Israel. So that if Israel were two thousand and two ten thousands less one, and there were a pregnant woman among them, who could complete the number, and a dog barked at her and caused her to miscarry -- it would emerge that this one [the owner of the dog] had caused the Shechinah to depart from Israel -- whence it was ruled: One may not keep a dog unless it is chained (Bava Kamma 83b)

NUMBERS — 10:36 thousands

The Rabbis taught: And when it rested, he said: Return, O L-rd, -- to the ten thousands thousands of Israel"-- This teaches us that the Shechinah does not rest upon fewer than two thousand and two ten thousands of Israel. So that if Israel were two thousand and two ten thousands less one, it would emerge that one who did not fulfill the command to be fruitful and multiply caused the Shechinah to depart from Israel (Yevamoth 64a)

NUMBERS — 11:4 craving

The Israelites in the wilderness received mon (manna) every day, by Heaven's grace. Its natural flavor was exquisite; and according to the Sages, whatever taste a person wanted to savor, he found it in the food. Nevertheless, a whole group set up a clamor for meat. Was this not pure lust, unwarranted, excessive craving?… The result was disaster (Numbers 11:4-9, 33. The tradition of the Sages is found in Tosefta, Sotah iv 3 (standard editions and MS Vienna); T.B. Yoma 75a; Midrash Sifre, Numbers §89; Tanhuma ed. Buber, B'ha'loth'cha 27; Rabbah, Exodus xxv 3.)

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