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Bamidbar 5777

On occasion in my derasha I’ve included a rhyme
In maybe a line or two
But today will be a different experience
I will try something utterly new

Truth be told poetry has been
An old hobby of mine
A recent poem to my students in Israel
Is but one of many a sign

Today’s derasha is a poem
Of my love of poetry you’ll have some evidence
Those 9 o’clock goers will have to miss out
As they scheduled a scholar in residence

When this parsha arrives it’s not its length
That makes me tremble with fear
Nor is it because the busy season’s back
Another holiday for the rabbi is near

I think it’s the theme which the parsha projects
A motif so paramount
It’s the great significance of this entire book
The theme of Israel’s count

Why here, at the start of the sefer you ask
Your question is not very new
Rashi Ramban Rashbam you should know
Address this to name just a few

G-d may take a census you see
To express His profound affection
Or perhaps to count the number
Of soldiers who afford us protection

But why should the thought of our nation’s census
Make me so afraid
If it demonstrates G-d’s love for us
Or our readiness to invade

The land of Israel with bravery and strength
Equipped with courageous armed forces
The many  battles over seven long years
All of which G-d fully endorses

Perhaps my anxiety is aroused
With the parsha’s proximity to a holiday
One celebrated on the 28th of Iyar
This year on the 24th of May

What a time to rejoice with Jerusalem
The return after 50 years
But with a closer look we mark this day
With not one but two types of tears

No doubt we cry tears on this occasion
Numerous tears of joy
When we remember June ‘67
And our Chayalim we did deploy

To Egypt Syria in the air and on land
And of course to Jerusalem of Old
To behold our eternal capital
Yerushalayim City of Gold

But the other tears that we cry
Are tears of a different kind
After bloody battles on all fronts
They are tears not difficult to find

We mourn the loss of Jewish souls 
Who sacrificed on the front line
We cry with their living relatives
Whose smiles no longer shine
The census of our parsha post Jerusalem day

Demands we internalize
That the number we lost fighting for survival
Is so important to memorialize

Our old city was redeemed by the holy ones
Who repossessed with great sacrifice
For our privilege to pray at the Kotel
We paid a heavy price

I am often haunted by the thought
That in our world there is no extra Jew
The Shoah in its horror and its darkness
Left but a few

And so did the many battles 
To defend our independent state
Against enemies that won’t relent
As they preach terror and hate

Perhaps our return to Rashi’s first comment
Can offer some consolation
When he notes that G-d’s counting His people
Demonstrates His adoration

That He too suffers along with us
It is ours but also His great loss
And although evil has its own free will
Not over one soul does G-d dare gloss

The numbers we’ve lost do live on
The Jewish relationship is fraternal
These perished souls continue to thrive
Through our Torah that’s eternal

Our Torah study can’t be only for us
We learn for others who are no longer here
From the grave they exclaim, Don’t cease those Torah words
They are music to my ear

Perhaps then we’ve discovered the secret
Why this parsha ushers in Shavuot
The connection the Torah has to our census
Is a phenomenon worthy to note

Yes our numbers and stature after 3300 years
Remain relatively small
But our eternity afforded by the gift of the Torah
Allows us to stand rather tall

The Torah is our covenant, our template our anchor
We hold dear the tablets of law
We reenact every year that Mount Sinai experience
That we and our forefathers saw

We are privileged to be called by the Almighty
A holy nation and a kingdom of priests
It is for this gift that we celebrated this Wednesday
With song and numerous feasts

We thus find comfort in knowing that those who are lost
Are not truly  lost at all
Our soldiers and victims of terror
Although beside us we’ve seen so many fall

They are still with us as the Torah’s light 
Has kept them so alive
With its study and our great devotion
Our nation continues to thrive
 

Wed, May 22 2019 17 Iyar 5779