Sedra of the Week: Bamidbar

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Sedra of the Week: Bamidbar

Rabbi Alex Chapper looks ahead to this week's portion of the Torah

The 19th century French politician Pierre-Joseph Proudhon said: “When deeds speak, words are nothing.” This might help us understand why the Torah’s fourth book is called Bamidbar – “in the desert” – and, as it is read prior to Shavuot, why the Revelation at Sinai took place in such an environment.

It may be paradoxical that the Hebrew word midbar, meaning desert, has the same root as davar (word) and the same letters as medaber (speaking). For it is in the desert the Jewish people hear the word of God and yet such an uninhabited place is synonymous with silence, the quiet associated with the absence of speaking.

The power of silence is highlighted by the death of Aharon’s two sons, Nadav and Avihu. Moses explains to his brother why they died and Aharon is silent – a response that is highly commended and speaks volumes about his character.

We discover that not only is silence a sign of greatness, but we also realise where there is silence great things can happen.  

The Torah was given with no background noise, and even the Jewish people limited their response to saying only, na’ase v’nishma – “we will do and we will understand.” 

As King Solomon phrased it in Kohelet, “There is a time (and place) for everything; a time to be silent and a time to speak.”  

Rashi says sometimes a person is silent and receives a reward, as it is said, “and Aharon was silent … and Hashem spoke to Aharon”.

Far from being a desolate place, the desert and, specifically its silence, enabled revelation of God’s word and for the most powerful and everlasting bond between God and the Jewish people to be effected.

  •  Rabbi Alex Chapper serves Borehamwood and Elstree United Synagogue

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