Be All That You Can Be: B’midbar 2020

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: As we are about to observe Memorial Day, do you feel that the military receives enough credit for its role in American life? Is it possible that it might get too much credit?

As the Israelites are counted at the beginning of the book of Numbers, some question to what extent the census is focused on military eligibility:

The Pitch: “You and Aaron shall record [the male Israelites] by their groups, from the age of 20 years up, all those in Israel who are able to bear arms.” – Numbers 1:3

Swing #1: “These terms refer here to military roles fulfilled by men. However, the same root is used elsewhere to describe the women who served at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting.” – The Torah: A Woman’s Commentary, Tamara Cohn Eskenazi & Andrea L. Weiss, ed.

Swing #2: “It is true that in the continuation of [the] narrative there is no question of any military activity on the part of the Israelite tribes and clearly the census, carried out from the military point of view, is for [the author] simply one element in the external organization of the people.” – Martin Noth, Numbers

Swing #3: “Based on this verse, our sages at the end of chapter 5 in Ethics of our Fathers (Pirkei Avot) made the well-known statement: בן עשרים לרדוף, ‘when having attained the age of twenty, one is fit to join the pursuit.’” – Chizkuni

Late-Inning Questions: In the view of our commentators, how central is military service to this census? To what extent are the deeds of the military reflective of the quality of the nation it represents? In what ways should our appreciation of our soldiers extend beyond Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: We’ll include a Memorial Day tribute in tonight’s Kabbalat Shabbat virtual gathering at 5:00PM. If you haven’t registered for Friday night services in the past, click here to do so.

Shabbat Shalom, and stay safe!