Holy Dangerous Things, Batman!: B’midbar 2019

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: How impressionable are you? Do you tend to be highly influenced by watching the actions of people you respect? Or are you more cautious before mimicking the way that others go about their business?

The end of this week’s Torah portion is concerned that a group of people might see the actions of the Levites and imitate them inappropriately:

The Pitch: “Do not let the group of Kohathite clans be cut off from the Levites. Do this with them, that they may live and not die when they approach the most sacred objects: let Aaron and his sons go in and assign each of them to his duties and to his porterage. But let not [the Kohathites] go inside and witness the dismantling of the sanctuary, lest they die.” – Numbers 4:18-20

Swing #1: “‘Do this with them’ – that is to say, do on behalf of them, that they may live and not die, by incurring the punishment of Karet (excision), when approaching the holy of holies, since the human soul on approaching that which is holy, naturally, yearns to see beyond the boundaries that are permitted it. Therefore you must cover up and conceal so that they shall not die, as a result of breaking through to see.” – Abarbanel

Swing #2: “Sometimes a hasid comes to the tzadik in order to learn by watching how the tzaddik behaves. But the tzaddik is in a state of spiritual smallness. The hasid copies this way of being from his master without realizing that he must know where to exercise caution to protect the soul. In this way it happened once that a hasid came to Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav and saw him drinking coffee while he was dressed in his tallit and tefillin. The hasid returned home and began to do the same thing! Our verse hints at such a warning. ‘But let not [the Kohathites] go inside and witness …’ means that they should not come to the tzaddik in order to see how the tzaddik behaves and naively act the same way. ‘And … witness the dismantling of the sanctuary …’ means that it may be that the tzaddik is in a state of spiritual smallness, because the holiness has been covered and is concealed. ‘Lest they die’ means that the people might then fall from whatever spiritual levels they had attained. For this reason, a person needs to be especially prudent to learn only during times of spiritual greatness.” – Otzar Hamachshava Shel HaHassidut

Swing #3: “‘For-a-moment’ (in verse 20): Literally, ‘as long as it takes to swallow.’ Similarly, in German, ‘moment’ is Augenblick, literally, ‘the blinking of an eye.’” – Everett Fox, The Five Books of Moses

Late-Inning Questions: How often are you concerned that other people might watch your actions and imitate them inappropriately? Do you ever change your behavior to make sure that no one gets the wrong impression? Are perception and reality really the same thing? Or should we not worry what others think of our actions, as long as we’re behaving ethically?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: We’re excited to enter these next three days – Shabbat, followed by the festival of Shavuot, when we observe the anniversary of receiving the Torah. We hope you’ll join us, especially for our joint learning session with Congregation Dor Tikvah on Sunday evening!

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of making lasting impressions, our favorite athletes have millions of fans, and countless imitators. One of the most famous examples took place at Billy Crystal’s Bar Mitzvah, in which the future comedian delivered his d’var Torah in an Oklahoma drawl to honor his favorite ballplayer, Mickey Mantle.

Shabbat Shalom and, soon, Hag Sameach!