Selected Sermon/Article
2010-05-14 Beyond Twelve Gates (BTG) by Rabbi Zeev Smason
Parshas Bamidbar


Beyond Twelve Gates -  Rabbi Ze'ev Smason

Parshas Bamidbar -  May 14, 2010



(See the end of our column for a special anniversary message)


Welcome to Beyond Twelve Gates.  Is your glass half full or half empty?   It's been said that "We don't see things as they are; we see them as we are."   I'd like to introduce you to a man who has had a remarkable ability to see himself clearly for 115 years; meet Mr. David Pur.


Pur was born in 1895 in what was then Persia and today is Iran.  He became an adviser to the Shah, who admired his mastery of languages, including Persian, Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic and French.  The Pur family made Aliyah to Israel in 1948.  Today David Pur has trouble seeing, but as one who has repeated the prayers for more than a century, he knows them by heart, and continues to learn Torah every day in the nursing home to where he moved just three months ago. An envoy from the Guinness Book of World Records is coming to Israel to formalize 115-year-old David Pur's title as the oldest living man on earth. Three of his nine children are still alive, as are 18 grandchildren and 56 great-grandchildren,


The old man is known for his smiles and for laughing and joking with the various members of his large family, who visit him daily. Pur's friends describe him as a man with an incredibly positive outlook.  His glass isn't simply half full -- but it's overflowing. "The main thing is not to lose your optimism," Pur said. "I, who buried the woman of my life 50 years ago, and six of my children - I understand that we must not let bitterness take hold of us."


"A pessimist," Winston Churchill once said, "sees the difficulty in every opportunity. An optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."   From where can we develop this spirit of optimism in the face of our many difficulties?  "Hope in G-d, strengthen yourself and He will give you courage, and hope in G-d." (Psalm 27)


Parshas Bamidbar   Numbers 1:1 - 4:20


This week we begin reading Sefer Bamidbar -- known in English as 'The Book of Numbers'.  Bamidbar ('in the desert') begins with G-d telling Moses to take a census of all men over the age of 20.  If you like names and numbers, you'll love this week's parasha.   The count reveals just over 600,000, excluding the Leviim (Levites) who weren't included in the census.   We also find described the way in which Bnai Yisrael camped around the Mishkan (Tabernacle), and the order in which they travelled during the 40 years in the desert.  Bnai Yisrael were arranged in four sections around the Mishkan; east, south, west and north. 


The Leviim are singled out for special responsibilities.  A formal transfer is made between the first-born and the Leviim, whereby the Leviim take over the role the first-born would have served.  The sons of Levi are divided into three main families; Gershon, Kehas and Merari.  Each is given a special task in transporting the Mishkan.




The major festival of Shevous begins on Tuesday evening May 18, and concludes Thursday evening, May 20.   Many of you may remember Cecil B. Demille's film 'The Ten Commandments', starring Charlton Heston.  Good film; however -- the book was better than the movie.  On Wednesday morning the Torah reading (Exodus 19:1 - 20:23) contains the narrative of giving of the Torah and the Aseres HaDibros -- inaccurately translated as 'The Ten Commandments.'  On the second day of Shevous the Torah reading (Deut.14:22 - 16:17) contains a brief description of the Shalosh Regalim - Passover, Shevous and Succos.


An argument can be made that Shevous is THE most important holiday of the Jewish year.  After all, without the Torah, what is Judaism?  The Torah was given to all of the Jewish people.  Unlike Demille's version where only Charlton ....I mean, Moses heard G-d speak, the uniqueness of Matan Torah (revelation) is that every man, woman and child heard G-d speak at Sinai (the mountain, not the hospital).  This fact alone distinguishes Judaism from all other religions and faiths.  When the Torah was given, it was to the entirety of the Jewish people.


Rabbinic Ruminations


We can learn to be better people by studying animals.  Ethics of Our Fathers teaches "Be bold as a leopard, light as an eagle, swift as a deer, and strong as a lion, to carry out the will of your Father in Heaven."  What can we learn from the bumblebee?


In the 1930s a leading zoologist concluded it should be impossible for a bumblebee to fly. Fixed-wing studies in conventional wind tunnels have not been able to show how enough lift can be generated to elevate the huge mass of a bumble bee (compared to its wing size). Fortunately, no bumblebees have ever studied aerodynamics!  So naively, they keep on doing what they should logically be incapable of doing - flying.


On occasion we meet people who are like bumblebees.  They buzz around, doing the seemingly impossible without giving it a second thought.  There seems to be no explanation for all they are able to accomplish:  they just do what needs to be done, and along the way, they pollinate the lives of others, helping them to grow.  There is much to learn from the bumblebee.


Quote of the Week


If you don't like change, you're going to like irrelevance even less -- Gen. Eric Shinseki, former U.S. Army chief of staff



Joke of the Week


 A rabbi told his congregation, "Next week I plan to give a sermon about the sin of lying. To help you understand my speech, I'd like all of you to read Exodus chapter 41."

The following Shabbat, as he prepared to deliver his sermon, the rabbi asked for a show of hands. He wanted to know how many had read Exodus 41. Every hand went up.

The rabbi smiled and said, "Exodus has only 40 chapters. I will now proceed with my sermon about lying."


This week we celebrate the one year anniversary of Beyond Twelve Gates.   Mazel Tov!   To our 'old-time' subscribers, we thank you for having been with us during this year of learning and growth.  To our new (and relatively new) readers, we welcome you.


On the occasion of BTG's first birthday, we ask that you consider two things:  


1)  Share Beyond Twelve Gates with a friend.  Or two.  Or five.  If you enjoy our column, we'd love to meet others who would appreciate reading our weekly thoughts.  


2)  Consider sponsoring a future of edition of Beyond Twelve Gates for $50.00. Honor a friend or family member on a special occasion -- or simply because you love them.   Remember a dear one on the occasion of a Yartzheit or another meaningful day or event.  Support the efforts of those who write and distribute Beyond Twelve Gates.   We would so appreciate it!