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Kenneth Brander
President and Rosh HaYeshiva, Ohr Torah Stone

Losing Our Youth: The Mistakes In Sefer Bamidbar That Continue To Plague Us

Sefer Bamidbar: an amazing book that speaks to us about the journey of the Jewish People on its march to its destiny in the Land of Israel.

It begins with a counting and how to travel into the Land of Israel – which are communal in nature – but with a focus on “ish ish“, the unique gifts that every individual possesses. [1:4]

It continues with how to move the Tabernacle [Chapter 2], and with new institutions such as the Pesach Sheni: the opportunity to offer a second Pascal sacrifice in the Land of Israel, for those who are unable to offer the first Pascal sacrifice at the beginning of the holiday of Pesach. [9:1-14]

But a series of events then occur that delay the Jewish people from entering the Land of Israel and actualizing their opportunity to be a nation with their own destiny.

These events stem from a lack of respect for the recognition of the holiness of the other. For instance, Aharon and Miriam challenge the unique qualities of Moshe. [Chapter 12] The Jewish people misunderstand the gift of materialism when it comes to the mannah [11:6] and remember the alleged delicacies that they had in Egypt. [11:5]

Their fundamental misunderstanding of the Land of Israel and its importance takes place in Parshat Shelach [Chapters 13 and 14]. Then we read of the rebellion against the leadership of Moshe and Aharon [Chapters 16 and 17]; and then a challenge between the nations of the world – represented by Balak and Bil’am – and the people of Israel. [Chapters 22-24]

As I read these stories, I am reminded that they deter us from actualizing our potential. And I ask myself, haven’t we learned from the Book of Bamidbar? How can it be that Orthodox Jews have forgotten how to talk to each other?

How can it be that the great dynasty of the Sefat Emet, the great dynasty of Ger, has forgotten how to talk to each other, to the point that there are fights between various groups and the police are compelled to intervene on Shabbat?

How can it be that we have forgotten how to talk to other Jews, particularly when we don’t agree with the way they celebrate their Judaism?

How can it be that on Yom Yerushalayim, when we celebrate the gift of receiving the Land of Israel and a united Jerusalem, that there is a small group – and I stress just a small group – of people who have forgotten the responsibility to treat minorities, to treat Muslims, with respect and dignity?

Haven’t we learned from the Sefer Bamidbar?

What pains me even more – and what even depresses me – is the fact that our young people are watching and listening.

Our young people are seeing that often what is important to us are the minutiae of Judaism and not the meta narratives.

And they don’t want to be part of such a Judaism that is so interested in minutiae that it forgets the major ideas that are part of our Holy Torah.

Sefer Bamidbar: the responsibility for us to march to our destiny; to watch what comes out of our mouth, to teach our children and grandchildren how to respect the other: other Orthodox Jews, other Jews in general and other people.

Sefer Bamidbar, which teaches us the responsibility to look at things in this world and recognize their greatness.

We don’t step away from materialism; we engage it through the prism of holiness.

The messages found in the parashot of Naso and Beha’alotcha, the idea of finding inner peace, the Birkat Kohanim and the responsibility to march to our destiny while respecting the other.

Shabbat Shalom.

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About the Author
Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander is President and Rosh HaYeshiva of Ohr Torah Stone, an Israel-based network of 30 educational and social action programs transforming Jewish life, living and leadership in Israel and across the world. He is the rabbi emeritus of the Boca Raton Synagogue and founder of the Katz Yeshiva High School. He served as the Vice President for University and Community Life at Yeshiva University and has authored many articles in scholarly journals.
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