Rabbi Goldschmidt

Parshat Bamidbar

There are so many things that we learn from our children; they test us in new and profound ways and through their own interests bring our attention to activities and subjects that we might never have ever considered.

This week whilst at the supermarket with our wonderful and inquisitive ten-year-old daughter Ahava, we reached a conversation about terrorism:

Whilst we might think that we are prepared for quite a lot; however I did not foresee our weekly shop becoming an attempt to explain September 11th, and the July 7th London bombing and the subsequent war on terror across the globe: the way air travel changed in terms of security, mass migration caused by so much displacement and the complexities of the middle east with my ten year old.

As I spoke certain names invariably came up: Osama, Bush, Blaire and others – I attempted to explain who these personalities were in relation to the subject, I tried to give over the enormity of what transpired, what it meant for us as young people at the time.

There are names that get etched into the pages of history forever, certain people whose lives transcend their time and location, those who have helped to shape our reality: this includes positive mentions as well as extremely negative ones.

Our Parsha begins with a retelling of the names of the heads of the tribes of Israel that were leaders at a moment of great national change, they led through turbulent times and faced great uncertainty, they walked into the desert following their prophet and trusting in Hashem – it is generally understood the heads of the tribes mentioned here were not the same as those who gave the evil report about the land of Israel (in the episode of the spies).

One of the reasons given for the counting of the people and the retelling of the names of the tribes in our Parsha is that Hashem found the people precious, and something that is cherished is counted often (Rashi), we can think of someone counting diamonds or precious stones and beholding their beauty and enjoying the fact that they have amassed so many: people keep collections of things that they find fascinating or precious and our Torah tells us that Hashem has that kind of relationship with his Children.

The names of the heads of those tribes, our patriarchs and prophets are etched into the eternity of our Torah, but so too are the names of the enemies of our people; the names of heroes and tyrants sit together in the pages of the same books – often, told from different perspectives: One man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter.

This Thursday was also the memorial of D-Day the code name for the Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied France on June 6, 1944, the largest seaborne assault in history: more than 150,000 young soldiers from the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada stormed the beaches of Normandy, France in a strategy to force the Nazi forces out of Western Europe and turn the tide of the war for good: the day itself, 4,414 Allied troops lost their lives, additionally, more than 5,000 soldiers were wounded. The subsequent Battle of Normandy (codename operation Overlord), 6th of June -30th of June 1944 saw 73,000 Allied forces killed and 153,000 wounded. Tragically, around 20,000 French civilians also lost their lives during this pivotal World War II event.

Around the world, leaders of countries gave solemn speeches for those who tragically lost their lives in the pursuit of freedom: freedom rarely being free and more often paid for in the ultimate price, others came to memorials and laid wreaths and flowers at large monuments containing almost an almost uncountable list names of the fallen, remembered now eternally as soldiers.

Jewish life forces us to choose between different things – ultimately our decision to be connected to Torah is the desire for meaning and eternality, our common ethos is that education should not only be composed of the pursuit of excellence in a subject but also in moral reasoning and character development. Since our world offers the possibility to be remembered for greatness or evil we are bidden to choose life and to depart from negativity.

An old Jewish joke goes something like this:

“Nice to meet you! What’s your name?”

“Chaim Feinberg – nice to meet you too”

“Fineberg? That is a really Jewish sounding name!”

“Thanks! My father gave it to me!”

Look after your names and what they represent, they belong not only to ourselves, but each and every Jew is also a representative of our entire people and an ambassador for Hashem on Earth.

May each of us be remembered for choosing a life of Blessing and good.

Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov!

Rabbi Jonathan Goldschmidt 2024 ©