Shabbat Bemidbar 5772

Though they don’t always come on consecutive days, it’s a pretty sure bet that our Torah portion, Bemidbar, and the Yom Tov of Shavu’ot will happen within the same week. That has to be by design; consider the fact that we have had two instances of double portions in the weeks since Pesah. Granted that one of them enabled us to catch up to Israel’s Torah reading schedule, but what about the other?

Commentators through the generations have offered many explanations. Prevailing wisdom suggests that since last week’s reading, Behukotai, included the nasty threats of the tokhehah, it’s better to insert a “page break” between the negative energy of that portion and the joyous celebration of Mattan Torah, God’s gifting us the Torah, which we mark on Shavu’ot. This may be a common answer, but it’s not a compelling one. To my mind, the sooner we could follow up the tokhehah with a some good news such as Torah, the better!

I’ve read at least six other explanations for the juxtaposition of Bemidbar and Shavu’ot, and logic dictates that the more answers there are, the more certain we can be that there is no certainty. But just because there’s no surefire answer doesn’t mean that we can’t find meaning in any of those suggested. 

Here’s one clue in our search for a connection: what is Parshat Bemidbar about? Mostly, it’s about the arrangement of the Israelite camp as were to embark on the march to the Promised Land. How was that camp to be arranged, and what is the significance of that arrangement? And is there added significance to the place this was to take shape–Bemidbar–in the wilderness, or desert? What does wilderness symbolize, and what does Shavu’ot represent? Can the Israelite wilderness floor plan provide a link from one symbol to the next?

Wishing you Shabbat Shalom and Hag Sameah,


Rabbi David Wise