As we read at the beginning of this book, the first thing that God had Moses do was to take a census to determine the number of men able to go to battle. In this parashah, God has Moses count the Levites and identifies who is to carry which parts of the Tabernacle.
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God gives instructions that all lepers must be placed outside the camp, in order that the camp not become defiled because Adonai will dwell within the camp.
He also gives instructions regarding when a husband suspects a wife of adultery, restitution for sinning against a brother Israelite, laws for vow-making, and the manner in which the Cohen shall bless the people, known as the Aaronic Blessing (Numbers 6:23-26.)
This parashah ends detailing (in exacting detail) the gifts that each of the twelve tribes brought to the Tabernacle after it had been set up and anointed.
In my Chumash, the commentary states the gifts were identical because there was such harmony between the tribes that no one tribe wanted to outdo the other, therefore they all gave the same gifts.
But then it goes on to state how the gifts were representative of the history of each tribe, whereas each identical item had a different significance, relating specifically to that tribe. These different meanings were based on the tribe’s history.
For example, Numbers 7:12 tells us the first tribe to bring their gifts was Judah, presented by Nahshon, and the Midrash tells us that Nahshon was honored to be the first to present the gifts because when the Red Sea was parted and the Israelites were hesitant to enter, Nahshon boldly plunged in, trusting that God would protect them.
Another example was that the silver charger presented by Reuben’s tribe recalled to mind that Reuben’s words saved Joseph’s life, quoting Proverbs 10:20 which says “The tongue of the just is as choice silver.”
Of course, none of this is found anywhere in the Torah. These stories and comments are the fabrication of the Rabbis over the years, which is what the Talmud really is all about: it is called the Oral Law but in reality, it is rabbinical mythology that tries to explain things we read in the Torah.
Another example is that we read at the end of Genesis 17 about the circumcision of Abraham, and the very next chapter starts with the visitation of the three angels. Well, the Torah has no defined timeline between these two events, but the Talmud tells us the angels visited on the third day after Abraham’s B’rit Milah, the day when the pain is the worst, and that it was a sign of Abraham’s devotion and humility that despite his pain, he got up and served these strangers.
Total fiction, not biblically substantiated in any way, but still and all a really nice story, and probably not that far from the truth, with regards to the type of man Abraham was.
I believe the Talmud is a wonderful book, full of much wisdom from many of the most studious and scholarly Rabbis of the past couple of millennia. BUT…it is not scripture. It is a work of fiction based on scripture, not unlike Hollywood making up what seems to be a nice way to see things that happened in history, but it’s not real.
Now, having said that, we can’t say all of it wasn’t real, because the truth is we do not know the time between the visitation of the angels and Abraham’s circumcision. It could have been days or even months later- we just don’t know, so the Talmud narrative could be true. Who knows? Maybe God gave a special insight to whoever came up with that, or maybe it is just something someone thought would fit in nicely.
We’ll never know, but to read it doesn’t weaken our faith, and that is an important point to understand when confirming my belief that studying the Talmud is not a bad idea. What we read may be man-made, but it doesn’t do anything to reduce our faith, and actually is designed to increase our understanding of God and his ways, which can only strengthen our faith.
Studying the Talmud will, at the very least, give you a good “feel’ for the Jewish mindset, and it will especially help you to understand Jewish Logic, which is my term for the way Jews argue. A Jew will never tell you what something is until he first tells you everything it isn’t. When you learn to recognize this methodology, then the letters that Shaul (Paul) wrote will become much easier to understand, and you will be able to see why they have been misunderstood and misinterpreted by Christians for so many years.
The Talmud also instructs us in how we are to obey the Torah in our everyday lives, which is called Halacha (The Way to Walk), and is what the Orthodox and Chasidic Jew learns from the time they can understand right from wrong. In the more religious sects of Judaism, the study of the Talmud comes even before the study of the Torah!
Sometimes we read instructions in the Torah and we can’t understand the reasons why God gave them. Often, there seems to be something missing: for example, we read about sacrificing an animal, and the Torah states we must treat our animals humanely, but there is nothing anywhere in the Torah telling us how to kill the animal humanely. However, the Talmud describes this process, which is called the Shechitah. So, the Talmud sort of “fills in” the missing parts, and even though it is all man-made tradition, I have never seen anything in the Talmud (although I am certainly not well-versed in it) that would be detrimental to our faith in God. The underlying foundation of the Talmud is the very word of God, so it builds on this and adds to it in a manner that is designed to help us better worship and obey the Torah.
And although Yeshua certainly had trouble with some of the rabbinic regulations, which later were part of the Talmud, he wasn’t against all man-made traditions, only those which had been given precedence over the instructions from God.
So, with regard to today’s parashah reading, reading the Torah narrative seems remarkably redundant, each of the twelve tribes presenting the exact same things, so why didn’t Moses just write what was given, and end it by saying each tribe gave the same? I don’t know, but we do know that when we see things repeated in the Bible it is usually to make an impact on the importance of what we are reading. Maybe, just maybe, Moses repeated each tribe’s gifts so that later someone, like whoever wrote about this in the Talmud, could explain how each identical item represented something unique to the tribe that presented it?
That’s why the Talmud isn’t such a bad book to know: you just have to be able to separate the wheat from the tares, so to speak, when reading it. Knowing the Tanakh is the first step, so that when you read the Talmud stories you can know which is biblical and which is not.
A funny aside: when I was touring Israel in 2016, I was the only Jew in the group and our Israeli guide was an expert in relating the Bible stories to the geography we were visiting. However, he was relating Talmudic stories as well as biblical stories, so throughout the trip, I kept raising my hand and saying, “Yosi- that was from the Talmud, right?” to which he would confess it was. I don’t know if he appreciated that or not, but we are still friends on Facebook, so I guess it didn’t really bother him.
In my opinion, a student of the Bible should not ignore the Talmud but become at least a little familiar with it as a means of better rounding out one’s understanding of Judaism and the Jewish mindset.
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That’s it for this week, so l’hitraot and Shabbat Shalom!