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Shabbat Parashat Bamidbar 5776

Parashat Hashavua: Between a Liberated Nation and a Mamlechet Kohanim

Harav Yosef Carmel

Historical events in the world and especially in Am Yisrael have always included a merging of a divine plan and the decisions of people based on free will.

The Jewish calendar of contemporary times also shows expressions of such a merging. The Jewish Nation has incorporated into the period between Pesach and Shavuot (holidays mandated by Torah law) the commemoratory days of Yom Hashoa and Yom Hazikaron L’chayalei Tzahal and celebratory days of Yom Ha’atzmaut, Lag Ba’omer, and Yom Yerushalayim, all of the latter having been set by the nation through its representatives. (We will not delve here into the character of each day.) We cannot deny that there is a disagreement within the community of believers whether the choice of these days should have significance in the daily public and private service of Hashem.

By taking a look at the historical development at the time of the formation of our nation, we will gain insight on the matter. Moshe was first involved in the physical liberation from the enslavement in Egypt. The oppression was very harsh and painful from an individual perspective. However, Moshe was not satisfied with solving the problems on an individual basis, but he was dedicated to bringing about a national liberation. The Exodus was accomplished when the nation was able to march out of Egypt in national strength (see Shemot 14:8 – “b’yad rama” is a term that can only capture a national movement, not a mass of individuals), as the nation was indeed finally free.

On the other hand, it is clear that without the giving of the Torah, the formative event which we celebrate on Shavuot, there is not national significance for us as the Nation of Israel. As Rav Saadia Gaon, said that our national status stems specifically from the Torah. Walking through the desert between Pesach and Shavuot was preparatory for the completion of the process, which occurred at Sinai.

A similar historical process transpired some 400 years later at the time of David and Shlomo, founders of the first organized State of Israel. First David declared independence. When he conquered the city of Yevus and turned into the City of David, he declared the end of the Philistine dominance. First Jerusalem was established as a political entity, and only later did it become the eternal spiritual capital of Am Yisrael, which began with the bringing of the Holy Ark to the city (Shmuel II, 6).

Shlomo also proceeded along this model. For 20 years he built the Beit Hamikdash and the greater capital city of Yerushalayim. This was the physical and political development. Only afterward did he bring the Holy Ark into the Holy of Holies in which the Divine Presence dwelled along with the special cloud and fire from the Heavens, as occurred at Sinai. After the Pesach-like (physical) experience, they came to a Shavuot-like (spiritual) experience.

Within the Jewish religious community, the debate has been raging: what precedes what? Can the national rebuilding occur without it being directly tied to Torah? Can the physical building come before the spiritual? Maybe first there has to be a full spiritual reawakening and then a national one? If we learn from the precedents of the Exodus and the founding of the Davidic kingdom, the answer is clear.

Let us pray that the whole nation will join in standing together as one person and with one heart and declaring: “We shall do, and we shall hear.”

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