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J.J Gross

Had there been Mir, Brisk, Lakewood, Ger, Belz or Satmar in the Desert (Pinhas)

וַיְהִ֖י אַחֲרֵ֣י הַמַּגֵּפָ֑ה {פ}
וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יְהֹוָה֙ אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֔ה וְאֶ֧ל אֶלְעָזָ֛ר בֶּן־אַהֲרֹ֥ן הַכֹּהֵ֖ן לֵאמֹֽר׃
When the plague was over, יהוה said to Moshe and to Elazar son of Aharon the priest,

שְׂא֞וּ אֶת־רֹ֣אשׁ ׀ כל־עֲדַ֣ת בְּנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל מִבֶּ֨ן עֶשְׂרִ֥ים שָׁנָ֛ה וָמַ֖עְלָה לְבֵ֣ית אֲבֹתָ֑ם כל־יֹצֵ֥א צָבָ֖א בְּיִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃
“Take a census of the whole Israelite company from the age of twenty years up, by their ancestral houses, all Israelite males able to bear arms.”

(Bamidbar/Numbers 26:1-2)

וַיְדַבֵּ֥ר יְהֹוָ֖ה אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֥ה לֵּאמֹֽר׃
And G-d spoke to Moshe, saying,

לָאֵ֗לֶּה תֵּחָלֵ֥ק הָאָ֛רֶץ בְּנַחֲלָ֖ה בְּמִסְפַּ֥ר שֵׁמֽוֹת׃
“Among these shall the land be apportioned as shares, according to the listed names:

(26: 53 54)

If we were to wonder what the “dor hamidbar” – the generation of the desert – wore as they sojourned in the wilderness for 40 years, most likely shtreimels, large velvet hats, long kapotas and heavy silk bekiches would not be our first guess.

Nevertheless, anything we might surmise would be speculative. The Torah does not offer much in the way of describing attire other than the bigdei kehunah, the ritual garments worn by kohanim during their avodah (service).

Hence, it is possible, but unlikely, that shtreimels were indeed de rigueur at Sinai, as Chassidic coloring books would have us believe.

The Torah often leaves out unnecessary details. At other times the text can be ambiguous and subject to later interpretation and heated debate.

Nevertheless there are certain things about which the Torah is very clear. For example, Shabbat. The overarching description of Shabbat is engraved twice in the Luhot HaBrit – in the Ten Commandments. There are two components, the first is to labor six days a week, the second to rest on the seventh. Why? Because that’s what G-d did. He spent six days in the creative and constructive work of making the universe, and He took a break on the seventh. Hence one who does not work Sunday-Friday is not keeping Shabbat on Saturday. Shabbat exists only in juxtaposition to the six weekdays. After all, one cannot take a break from a break.

Another thing about which the Torah is absolutely unambiguous is the matter of who is counted among the Bnei Yisrael. The criteria are clear: a male who is at least 20 years old, and who is of service in the military.

Of the 601,730 people (Bamidbar 26:51) who were accounted for in the census, every single one, without exception met these two criteria. Period.

Furthermore it was these men, and these men only who were apportioned shares in Eretz Israel.

The implication here is that there were men, and not just a few, who did not meet these criteria. Hence the need for a census that would weed them out.

Not counted in the census were the Bnei Levi – the Kohanim and Leviim – who did not serve in the military and who, therefore, received no land in Israel. This despite the long years of backbreaking service they were required to perform. Indeed, they even worked on Shabbat!

וְשֵׁ֣ם ׀ אֵ֣שֶׁת עַמְרָ֗ם יוֹכֶ֙בֶד֙ בַּת־לֵוִ֔י אֲשֶׁ֨ר יָלְדָ֥ה אֹתָ֛הּ לְלֵוִ֖י בְּמִצְרָ֑יִם וַתֵּ֣לֶד לְעַמְרָ֗ם אֶֽת־אַהֲרֹן֙ וְאֶת־מֹשֶׁ֔ה וְאֵ֖ת מִרְיָ֥ם אֲחֹתָֽם׃
The name of Amram’s wife was Jochebed daughter of Levi, who was born to Levi in Egypt; she bore to Amram Aaron and Moses and their sister Miriam.

וַיִּוָּלֵ֣ד לְאַהֲרֹ֔ן אֶת־נָדָ֖ב וְאֶת־אֲבִיה֑וּא אֶת־אֶלְעָזָ֖ר וְאֶת־אִיתָמָֽר׃
To Aaron were born Nadab and Avihu, Elazar and Itamar.

וַיָּ֥מת נָדָ֖ב וַאֲבִיה֑וּא בְּהַקְרִיבָ֥ם אֵשׁ־זָרָ֖ה לִפְנֵ֥י יְהֹוָֽה׃
Nadav and Avihu died when they offered alien fire before יהוה.—

וַיִּהְי֣וּ פְקֻדֵיהֶ֗ם שְׁלֹשָׁ֤ה וְעֶשְׂרִים֙ אֶ֔לֶף כל־זָכָ֖ר מִבֶּן־חֹ֣דֶשׁ וָמָ֑עְלָה כִּ֣י ׀ לֹ֣א התְפָּקְד֗וּ בְּתוֹךְ֙ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל כִּ֠י לֹא־נִתַּ֤ן לָהֶם֙ נַחֲלָ֔ה בְּת֖וֹךְ בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃
Their enrollment of 23,000 comprised all males from a month up. They were not part of the regular enrollment of the Israelites, since no share was assigned to them among the Israelites.

(Bamidbar/Numbers 26: 60-63)

Clearly, the Torah places overarching emphasis on the importance of military service, refusing to even count those men who avoid the army for whatever reason; even if it is not their own fault, either because they are physically challenged or because they are prevented from doing so by dint of their service in the Mishkan (Tabernacle).

Hence it is absolutely clear that had there been a Mir, Brisk, Lakewood, Ger, Belz, Satmar or any of the other myriad yeshivas and sects in the Dor Hamidbar, not one of them would have been counted, and not one of them or their children would have received a square inch of land in Eretz Israel.

Indeed, even women – in rare circumstances – were able to acquire a share in the Land.

וְאֶל־בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל תְּדַבֵּ֣ר לֵאמֹ֑ר אִ֣ישׁ כִּֽי־יָמ֗וּת וּבֵן֙ אֵ֣ין ל֔וֹ וְהַֽעֲבַרְתֶּ֥ם אֶת־נַחֲלָת֖וֹ לְבִתּֽוֹ׃
“Further, speak to the Israelite people as follows: ‘If a householder dies without leaving a son, you shall transfer his property to his daughter.

(Bamidbar/Numbers 27:8)

This was in response to the daughters of Zelafhad who complained because their father had died without leaving any sons, so why should his legacy be erased. In all likelihood, these five sisters really had no brothers to inherit their father. Nevertheless, at least in theory, it is possible that they did have brothers but these were learning in Lakewood or Brisk or Belz and therefore did not exist qua ‘sons’ in the legal sense as described in the Torah.

One would expect people who are truly committed to Torah to be the very first to enlist in the IDF and to be among the most elite fighters. And this is, of course true. Fully 25% of combat officers in the IDF are religious. They come from the religious Zionist sector which represents only 12% of the population.

One would expect no less from the ultra-orthodox haredi sector. Unfortunately this is not the case, with their numbers in the IDF hovering at just above 0%. But of one thing we can be certain, they keep Shabbat very, very, very strictly. In fact fully 50% of them keep Shabbat a full seven days a week.

About the Author
J.J Gross is a veteran creative director and copywriter, who made aliyah in 2007 from New York. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and a lifelong student of Bible and Talmud. He is also the son of Holocaust survivors from Hungary and Slovakia.