This week we begin reading Sefer Bamidbar — known in English as ‘The Book of Numbers’. Bamidbar (‘in the wilderness’) 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 portion. The count reveals just over 600,000, excluding the Levites who weren’t included in the census. We also find described the manner in which the Jewish People camped around the Mishkan (Tabernacle), and the order in which they traveled during the 40 years in the desert. The Jewish People were arranged in four sections around the Mishkan; east, south, west and north. The Levites are singled out for special responsibilities. A formal transfer is made between the first-born and the Levites, whereby the Levites 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 Shavous begins on Saturday evening June 8 and concludes Monday evening June 10. 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 Sunday morning the Torah reading (Exodus 19:1 – 20:23) contains the narrative of the giving of the Torah and the Aseres HaDibros — “The Ten Statements”, often inaccurately translated as ‘The Ten Commandments.’ On the second day of Shavous, Monday, the Torah reading (Deut. 15:19 – 16:17) contains a brief description of the Shalosh Regalim – Passover, Shavous and Succos. An argument can be made that Shavous is THE most important holiday of the Jewish year. After all, without the Torah, what is Judaism?