Lifting the heads of the Israelites in the desert is a nice way to think of the beginning of the book of B’minbar. One can think of it as taking a census or as raising the spirit of the people in holiness and confidence. The first two parshiot are marked by precision and reiteration. First, leaders of each tribe are designated one by one. Next, each tribe is counted and the numbers recorded in the exact same way, all except for the Levites, who come later. Then the camps are designated around the Communion Tent: Judah, with Issachar and Zebulun, to the east; Reuben, with Simeon and Gad, to the south; Ephraim, with Manasseh and Benjamin, to the west, and Dan, with Asher and Naphtali to the north. The Levites are in the middle, also divided into sub-groups. Thus, there are clear lines radiating out from spiritual centre of the whole camp to all the tribes, one great extended family or nation. God then gives instructions for the Levites, who have been dedicated to God in place of the first born of all the Israelites. Each group (Gershon, Kethoth and Merari) are given specific tasks relating to the care and transport of the Tabernacle. It is almost as if the nation were being constructed according to some architectural plan.
Three interludes, curious at first sight, follow. The first describes the trial by bitter water of the suspected adulteress. (One wonders what happened when the wife suspected her husband of adultery. What redress did she have?) The second interlude goes through the law governing the Nazarites, those who dedicated themselves for a period to special devotion to God. In a way, the idea of the Nazarite seems curiously un-Jewish, closer perhaps to the Christian idea of the hermit. The third interlude is the beautiful Priestly Blessing.
We then go back to the exactitude of the previous parts, as the gifts of each tribe for the sanctification of the Tabernacle are recounted, twelve word-for-word repetitions of the same items: silver and gold vessels and sacrificial animals. Of course, this underlines how each tribe is equal and is generous to the same degree.
But I have said far to much and I will leave it to Liz Berg to tell you more as she leads us in prayer and reflection this Saturday at 10.30.
Note that Shavuot begins in the evening. The counting of the Omer is completed and we celebrate the giving of the Torah.