30 Sivan-6 Tammuz, 5780                                     June 22-28, 2020 -- THE JEWISH OBSERVER, LOS ANGELES--637th Web Ed.


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The Ramban (Nachmanides) wonders why Moses took a census of the people.

He gives two answers. The first answer is that the count showed that G-d knew and loved every individual.

The second: it showed that Moses and Aaron realised that each Israelite was distinctive and needed handling in their own way.

The first answer is clear since G-d sees and understands every one of the world’s population. But the second answer?

How can Moses and Aaron be expected to know every one of the 600,000 male adults – two million people when we include the women and children?

A rabbi sometimes despairs of relating to every one of his congregation. Even large congregations do not number anything like 600,000. Yet the Ramban says that all the people were known to the leaders.

Moses and Aaron did not keep to an ivory tower or focus on any one group. They went out and about and visited every home and family. Hard work, but without it there was no relationship or rapport.

The Talmud (B’rachot 28a) criticises Rabban Gamliel who had no idea of the poor conditions in which Rabbi Y’hoshua lived.


We tend to think that "B’midbar" means "In the wilderness". That is not the only (or the best) translation.

Why, asks Dr Aviva Gottlieb Zornberg, do we not link it with "dabber", to speak?

In that sense the book we commence this week is a historical narrative that speaks of the forty years in which the adult generation that left Egypt grows old and the youngsters become adults.

The new adults have their own ideas and reject some of the ideas of the past: an example is the challenge that Korach mounts against Moses and Aaron, whom he sees as facing a new future with old thinking.


In their comments on the sidra B’midbar, the sages offer an ethical analysis of the layout of the camp of Israel in the wilderness.

The Levites took up the center block and around them were placed the Israelites in four groups of three tribes.

In the east were Judah, Issachar and Z’vulun, just outside the families of Moses and Aaron.

Possibly because these three tribes had such neighbors they were inspired to become great leaders, judges and scholars in later history.

"It is well with the righteous, and well with his neighbour," says Rashi (on Num. 3:38), quoting the sages.

The tribe of Reuben, on the other hand, were not so fortunately placed. They were adjacent to the family of K’hat, from whose midst arose the rebellion of Korach. Maybe because of this, the Reubenites did not make such a great contribution to later history.

"Woe to the wicked, and woe to his neighbor," say the rabbis, in words quoted by Rashi on Num. 3:29.

Sometimes a neighborhood is just not right for you, even today.

When looking for a house it is not just a question of "location, location, location". An even more important criterion is "environment, environment, environment".  It’s not merely, "Who am I?" but "Who is my neighbor?"



It has been quite a week around the world. Between corona, protests and rioting the world has never seemed so complex. I spent the past week doing numerous TV and radio interviews regarding anti-Semitism. Many of you have reached out to me expressing your feelings. As you are my family, I wanted to express my general thoughts in a very personal manner.

When I worked at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, I got to know the African American community on a very intimate level. One speaking engagement stands out in my mind. I was speaking at a meeting of the NAACP in Manhattan. We talked about how close the Jewish community and the African American community were during the civil rights movement. Ultimately we decided to try to renew our bonds and work closely in the future.

That night I had decided to come early so I could attend the board meeting before I spoke. The main topic was the incarceration of young men aged 16-24. I realized that I did not fully understand the pain of their community and the struggle that they experienced regarding the fear that they had for law enforcement. Thankfully, I was involved in a program run by the Simon Wiesenthal Center called Tools for Tolerance. That year we trained 6,000 NYPD Sergeants in how to deescalate situations and practice community policing.

I have never forgotten the lessons I learned during those years. We must be sensitive to the African American community. What happened to George Floyd was horrific and intolerable. We must stand against unnecessary violence especially when it comes from law enforcement. That must be coupled with the fact that the majority of police officers are good people trying their best to keep us all safe. We must help both sides come together and forge a pathway towards coexistence and peace.

Having opened up my heart you regarding my thoughts about the protests, I want to be firm that there is one aspect that must never be tolerated. Frequently those that hate Jews and Israel find their ways into liberal movements and use them as a cover. No where has it been more apparent then the BDS movement. Unfortunately it does not stop there.

Who could forget that when the leaders of the Women’s March were asked to condemn Louis Farrakhan’s remarks referring to us Jews as “termites,” they couldn’t bring themselves to do it. Black Lives Matter has consistently incorporated Anti-Israel groups into their organization. I have asked them on many occasions how this could possibly help their cause. Intersectionality has given an opening to antisemitic and anti Israel groups to hide their hate behind other causes.

This was the background which culminated with synagogues in Los Angeles being attacked this past week. I found that I could not remain silent as hate messages were scrawled on our sacred houses of worship. This was not an accident. While the Jewish people must be a light unto the Nations we must be sure that the Jewish people stays strong.  

I was told by some that we should stay quiet about the antisemitism that was occurring because “we shouldn’t make this about us.” My friends, I have much love and sensitivity for the world at large. But there is no scenario where a Jew gets attacked that I won’t scream from the rooftops. We must always look after our family. This was the point I made over and over again to the media this past week.

As Jews we must care about every human being on this planet. We have stood for morality and ethics for thousands of years. It is inherent in the DNA of a Jew. Simultaneously, we must always have every Jew's back. We must defend each other no matter what the cost. That is what defines family. May the Almighty help to heal the world and give comfort for all those in need.  Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Steven Burg, CEO, Aish Global, Rabbi Avi Stewart, Los Angeles, CA