B’midbar / In the Wilderness
1 Corinthians 12:12-20
B’midbar / In the Wilderness opens with a long narrative of explanations and laws. First, there is a census. Then there is an account of the arrangement of the tribes around the Tent of Meeting and a long account of the Levites, their families and their roles. Then there are laws about the purity of the camp, restitution, a woman suspected of adultery, and the Nazarite. A long series of chapters describe the final preparations for the journey, but not until Numbers 10 do they actually set out on their journey.
As we begin the book of Numbers, we see a great connection between God’s love and the Torah. So many people of all denominations often fail to see or realize how the Torah represents law as love and love as law. Torah is not just a bunch of rules or statutes, but rather it’s God’s love for His people, creating a place for His glory among those that live by His Covenants.
The book of Numbers, beginning with B’midbar is always read before Shavuot, the Giving of the Torah. This reminds us how common is the idea of the wilderness – the desert, no man’s land – is to us. It is midbar, wilderness, that gives our parsha and the book as a whole its name. It was in the desert that the Israelites made a covenant with God and received the Torah. It was in the wilderness that the Israelites experienced life sustaining contact with God as He gave them water from the Rock and Manna from Heaven and lifted their souls with Clouds of Glory. Even in the wilderness, God remained the Sovereign.
The Prophets speak of this wilderness and God’s people. Hosea 2:14-15 ‘I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her…There she will respond as in the days of her youth, as in the day she came out of Egypt.’ Jeremiah 2:2 ‘I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved Me and followed Me through the wilderness, through a land not sown.’
Both of these verses describe the desert as a honeymoon in which God and the people are related to the bridegroom and bride, alone together as the bride who follows the bridegroom. We might see the Israelites as an obstinate and stiff-necked people complaining and rebelling against God, but as we read these two verses, we see that the Prophets saw things differently. The wilderness was a time of bonding.
A wilderness is described as a tract or region uncultivated and uninhabited by human beings, an area essentially undisturbed by human activity. It is together with its naturally developed life community, an empty or pathless area or region in remote wildernesses of space groups. It is also described as a part of a garden devoted to wild growth and in a wild or in an uncultivated state, a confusing multitude or mass.
The sages give several views on the wilderness; “The Torah was given publicly, openly and in a place that no one owns because had it been given in the land of Israel, so no one would say to the nations of the world, “You have no share in it.” Instead, whoever wants to come and accept it, let them come and accept it.”
In Leviticus 19:33-34 as God says - ‘And if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him. 34 The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.’
Just as the wilderness is free – it costs nothing to enter – so the Torah is free, it is God’s gift to us.
This is also true of the Holy Spirit, given to us freely and on the exact same day thousands of years later. Acts 2:1-4 states: ‘When the Day of Shavuot had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. 2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.’
While the Israelites remained in the wilderness, God was giving them life sustaining instructions, even though they couldn’t understand it. We too, being in a state of wilderness, are given life sustaining instructions, which we often fail to grasp.
In Numbers 2 God has specific details for the arrangements of the camps. From the east going first; Judah, Issachar then Zebulun. From the south Rueben, Simeon then Gad. In the middle was the Levites. On the west was Ephraim, Manasseh then Benjamin. From the north; Dan, Asher then Naphtali. The Levites were not counted.
God is specific, and we see this again in Revelation 21:12-14 as John describes the New Jerusalem. ‘It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. 13 There were three gates on the east, three on the north, three on the south and three on the west. 14 The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.’
God’s sovereignty allowed and allows us today to live freely. Yet, He is the redeemer of all. Another example of His Divine Sovereignty are the instructions given to Moshe in Numbers 3:44. 'And the LORD spoke to Moses saying, Take the Levites in place of all the firstborn of Israel and the livestock of the Levites in place of their livestock. The Levites are to be Mine. I Am the LORD. To redeem the 273 firstborn Israelites who exceed the number of the Levites, collect five shekels for each one according to the sanctuary shekel...’
What does it mean to redeem? 'The action of saving or being saved from sin, error, or evil. The action of regaining or gaining possession of something in exchange for payment, or clearing a debt.
Psalm 111:9 -'He sent redemption to His people; He has commanded his covenant forever. Holy and awesome is His name!'
Isaiah 44:22 -'I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like mist; return to Me, for I have redeemed you.'
Psalm 107:2 - 'Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom He has redeemed from trouble.'
Colossians 1:14 - 'In whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.'
Titus 2:14 - 'Who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession who are zealous for good works.'
Isaiah 54:5 ‘For your husband is your Maker, whose Name is the Lord of Hosts; and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel, who is called the God of all the earth.’
B’midbar / In the Wilderness
1 Corinthians 12:12-20
This week we begin a new book of the Torah, B’midbar which means In the Wilderness. Read on the Sabbath before Shavuot, this parsha shows connections between these two events. One interpretation is that Shavuot represents the giving of the Torah, which is a free gift. The giving of the Holy Spirit thousands of years later on Shavuot is also a free gift. The sages teach that the Torah was given in the wilderness/B’midbar, for the wilderness is free, no one owns it. The endless chaotic wanderings in the wilderness, as in our lives, would only subside when we grasp hold of the teacher – the Torah.
B’midbar is translated as ‘In the Desert ‘or ‘In the Wilderness’. The Hebrew word midbar, wilderness, has the same root as the word dabar/davar, meaning “word” or “thing.” It has the same letters as medabber, “speaking.” It is in the wilderness that the Israelites heard revelation, the word or speaking of God. It is in the wilderness that we also hear God. The fifth book of the Torah is Devarim which in Hebrew means ‘The Words’. The Word follows The Wilderness. Just as God speaks to us in the wilderness, He also humbles and proves us in the wilderness as we will later read in Deuteronomy 8:2 in the parsha Ekiev.
B’midbar is about a journey. It is about a journey to. Shemot, Names, was also about a journey, but that was a journey from. The books Shemot and B’midbar have several similarities. They are both about journeys. In both books the Israelites are often ungrateful and complaining. They argue among themselves and with Moshe. In both, the Israelites commit a major sin: in Shemot, the golden calf and in B’midbar, the episode of the spies. And in both of the books, God threatens to destroy them and begin again with Moses. Both times, Moses pleads with God to forgive and spare them.
Shemot is the story of an escape from slavery. The contrast in B’midbar, the people have already left Egypt far behind, spending a long time in the Sinai desert. They have received the Torah and built the moving Tabernacle. Now they are ready to move on. This time they are looking forward, not back.
In this parsha, we read what we might think of as a contradictory concept.
Numbers 3:11-13 ‘Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 12 “Now behold, I Myself have taken the Levites from among the children of Israel instead of every firstborn who opens the womb among the children of Israel. Therefore, the Levites shall be Mine, 13 because all the firstborn are Mine. On the day that I struck all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, I sanctified to Myself all the firstborn in Israel, both man and beast. They shall be Mine: I am the Lord.”
Numbers 33:40-47a ‘Then the Lord said to Moses: “Number all the firstborn males of the children of Israel from a month old and above, and take the number of their names. 41 And you shall take the Levites for Me—I am the Lord—instead of all the firstborn among the children of Israel, and the livestock of the Levites instead of all the firstborn among the livestock of the children of Israel.” 42 So Moses numbered all the firstborn among the children of Israel, as the Lord commanded him. 43 And all the firstborn males, according to the number of names from a month old and above, of those who were numbered of them, were twenty-two thousand two hundred and seventy-three. 44 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 45 “Take the Levites instead of all the firstborn among the children of Israel, and the livestock of the Levites instead of their livestock. The Levites shall be Mine: I am the Lord. 46 And for the redemption of the two hundred and seventy-three of the firstborn of the children of Israel, who are more than the number of the Levites, 47 you shall take five shekels for each one individually…’
By reading these two examples, we may think that the Levites replaced the nation of Israel as the firstborn. However, they did not replace, they were just elevated.
According to tradition, the first-born acted as officiating priests in the wilderness until the erection of the Tabernacle, when the office was given to the tribe of Levi. (Numbers 3:12, 13, 45-51). In Exodus 13:2 God gave the commandment “Consecrate to Me all the firstborn, whatever opens the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and beast; it is Mine.”
This is somewhat clarified in Numbers 8:13-19 ‘And you shall stand the Levites before Aaron and his sons, and then offer them like a wave offering to the Lord. 14 Thus you shall separate the Levites from among the children of Israel, and the Levites shall be Mine. 15 After that the Levites shall go in to service the tabernacle of meeting. So you shall cleanse them and offer them like a wave offering. 16 For they are wholly given to Me from among the children of Israel; I have taken them for Myself instead of all who open the womb, the firstborn of all the children of Israel. 17 For all the firstborn among the children of Israel are Mine, both man and beast; on the day that I struck all the firstborn in the land of Egypt I sanctified them to Myself. 18 I have taken the Levites instead of all the firstborn of the children of Israel. 19 And I have given the Levites as a gift to Aaron and his sons from among the children of Israel, to do the work for the children of Israel in the tabernacle of meeting, and to make atonement for the children of Israel, that there be no plague among the children of Israel when the children of Israel come near the sanctuary.”
The cost of redemption was five shekels – could they be a metaphor for the five books of the Torah? They represent our redemption, given to us in the wilderness. Yeshua being the Living Torah is the means of redemption, guiding us - not judging us - towards deliverance.
To redeem is to vindicate, to absolve, to reclaim, to repossess. The Torah and Yeshua are both leading us out of the wilderness. If we separate ourselves from the Torah, we bring ourselves under the law. When we grasp hold of the Torah, we have a leader, Yeshua who called Himself ‘Rabbi’ meaning teacher. He is our Leader, redeeming us and guiding us through Torah. We are connected to our Leader who is delivering us from and bringing us towards.
Isaiah 43:1 speaks of the redeemed, ‘But now, thus says the Lord, your Creator, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine!’
Psalm 77:15 ‘You have by Your power redeemed Your people, the sons of Jacob and Joseph. Selah.’
Isaiah 62:12 ‘And they will call them, “The holy people, the redeemed of the Lord”; and you will be called, “Sought out, a city not forsaken.”
Jeremiah 31:11 ‘For the Lord has ransomed Jacob and redeemed him from the hand of him who was stronger than he.’
Psalm 71:23 ‘My lips will shout for joy when I sing praises to You; and my soul, which You have redeemed.’
Titus 2:14 ‘…who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.’
At the birth of his son, Yochanan, Zacharias, being filled with the Holy Spirit, prophesizes about his son preparing the way for the Redeemer. Luke 1:68-69 ‘Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David…’ Luke 1:76 ‘And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; for you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways…’
The ritual of the firstborn is called ‘pidyon haben’ and is performed on the 31st day after the birth, the actual birth day being counted as day one. The Redemption of the First Born is in obedience to Adonai’s commandment given after He brought the Israelites out of Egypt, that all male children who “open the womb” of the mother are to be redeemed. This redemption is connected to the fact that the Angel of the LORD destroyed all the firstborn in Egypt, but left the first-born of the Israelites untouched. It is a simple ceremony but with huge meaning: the father presents the firstborn to one of the Cohens – descendants in the priestly line – who asks the father whether he would rather give the son away or redeem him. The father chooses to redeem the boy and, with the equivalent of five silver shekels in his hand, says: “Blessed are You, Oh Lord our God, King of the universe who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us concerning the redemption of the first-born son.” The money is handed over to the Cohen who passes it over the boy’s head saying, “This is in place of this…” and then says the priestly blessing over the child from Numbers 6:22-27. This last verse, Numbers 6:27 states: ‘So they shall put My name on the children of Israel, and I will bless them.’
We are connected to the Torah. We are a redeemed people, living a redeemed lifestyle. Unless we know about the Redemption of the Firstborn and the truth behind living a redemptive life through the grace/chesed of Torah and the Living Torah, we are incomplete.
Yeshua is the firstborn: Matthew 1:23-25
Yeshua is the first begotten son of God: Hebrews 1:6
Yeshua is the firstborn of every creature: Colossians 1:15
Yeshua is the first-begotten from the dead: Revelation 1:5
Yeshua is the first born of many brethren: Romans 8:29
Yeshua is the first fruits of the resurrected ones: 1 Corinthians 15:20-23
Yeshua is the beginning of the creation of God: Revelation 3:14
Yeshua is the preeminent One: Colossians 1:18
B’midbar / In the Wilderness
HafTorah Portion Hosea 2:1-23
Brit Chadasha Romans 9:22-33
B’midbar, In the Wilderness; is about a journey. This is a journey to. Shemot, Names, was also about a journey. That was a journey from. The books Shemot and B’midbar have some several similarities. They are both about journeys. In both books the Israelites are often ungrateful and complaining. They argue amongst themselves and with Moshe. In both, the Israelites commit a major sin: in Shemot, the golden calf, in B’midbar, the episode of the spies. And in both of the books, God threatens to destroy them and begin again with Moses. Both times, Moses pleads with God to forgive and spare them.
However, these books have differences. Shemot is the story of an escape from slavery. In contrast, in B’midbar the people have already left Egypt far behind, spending a long time in the Sinai desert. They have received the Torah and built the moving Tabernacle. Now they are ready to move on. This time they are looking forward, not back. They are thinking not of the danger they are fleeing from but of the destination they are heading toward, the Promised Land. The same, yet so different.
The Israelites left Egypt, carrying their baggage, often nursing their wounds, complaining and longing to return to the coolness of the cucumbers. They hadn’t let go of the past, of their slavery. They had to learn to let go, to change and grow and move on, and not wanting to ever return. In B’midbar, they are moving forward. If we had never read the Torah before, we might assume that the second half of the journey would be more positive and the people more hopeful. After all, the great dangers had passed, Pharaoh had let the people go, only to chase after them then being defeated by God at the Red Sea where God miraculously saved His people. They had fought and defeated the Amalekites. They knew that when God was with them, for He had shown them over and over again that He was the prevailing entity. What was to worry about?
However, just the opposite is true. B’midbar can seem a bit darker than Shemot. The rebellions are more serious. Moses’ leadership is more hesitant and he succumbs to anger and despair. We learn as we read and study B’midar that the journey from is always easier than the journey to.
So much like us. We leave Egypt, only to carry our baggage with us, longing for the past, for it was comfortable and we ‘knew it’. Yet, we are excited to leave our bondage and follow God as He calls us. The journey ahead of us is strange, and at times scary as we venture into the unknown. Yet, this is exactly what God commands us to do; leave the past and cross over. Yet, we hesitate for we knew the past, here we are venturing into the unknown. We can flee from danger, we seek peace. But in fleeing to another life, we become strangers in a strange land, having to learn new skills and adapt to the God we serve, instead of living in our own bondage.
Our mind set should not be on what I am leaving, but rather how can I serve God into where I am going? We know the bondage that we are to leave, it is the unknown of our new relationship that we wonder.
Luke 9:62 ‘Yeshua said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Genesis 19:17 ‘And as they brought them out, one said, “Escape for your life. Do not look back or stop anywhere in the valley. Escape to the hills, lest you be swept away.”
Genesis 19:26 ‘But Lot's wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.
Philippians 3:3-14 ‘Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Yeshua HaMashach.’
Isaiah 43:18 ‘“Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old.
Matthew 24:17 ‘Let him who is on the housetop not go down to take anything out of his house.’
Luke 9:60 ‘Yeshua said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God.”
The promise in Isaiah is comforting and soothes even the most weary.
“But you, Israel, are My servant,
Jacob whom I have chosen,
The descendants of Abraham My friend.
9 You whom I have taken from the ends of the earth,
And called from its farthest regions,
And said to you,
‘You are My servant,
I have chosen you and have not cast you away:
10 Fear not, for I am with you;
Be not dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you,
Yes, I will help you,
I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’
If this is your journey moving toward the ways of God, be encouraged. He will never leave you nor forsake you. The path is narrow, but true.
Be blessed ~ Rabbi Jay Howard