A collection of excerpts from Torah Club on the weekly Torah Portions, from Genesis to Deuteronomy.
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The prohibition on counting people seems inexplicable, but perhaps God wants to teach us that people are not numbers. When people are numbered, their individual merit is lost. Have you felt the dehumanizing effect of being treated as simply a number? In the camps of Nazi Germany, the Nazis branded identification numbers into the flesh of their victims.
The Chasidic concept of tzaddikism explains that the merit of a single righteous person can be extended to others. On the basis of God’s gracious favor for one man, the entire nation received the forgiveness of sin. The ultimate redeemer is like the first redeemer, making atonement for the entire nation on the basis of His merit alone.
The people were to fashion the furnishings of the Tabernacle of gold. Instead, Aaron fashioned the idol "with a graving tool and made it into a molten calf" (Exodus 32:4). The people were to build a bronze altar for burnt offerings and a golden altar for incense. Instead, we read that "he built an altar" (Exodus 32:5) for the idol.
Moses descends from Mount Sinai, ascends the mountain, and descends again. That is to say, he came down from heaven, returned to heaven, and came down a second time. The first and second coming of the Messiah follows the same pattern. Just like Moses at Mount Sinai, the Messiah descended on a rescue mission to call Israel to repentance.
The LORD told Israel, "This is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the LORD who sanctifies you" (Exodus 31:13). Just as the diamond engagement ring represented that the girl was set apart for her fiancé, the Sabbath represents that Israel is sanctified by God. As the nineteenth-century secular Zionist Asher Ginzberg once said, "More than the Jewish people have kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept the Jewish people." The Sabbath has been an anchor of Jewish identity throughout the generations.