What is the name of this week’s parasha? We all call the parasha and the sefer, “Bamidbar”. But actually, the word is “Bəmidbar”, as in בְּמִדְבַּר סִינַי.
Now, I love being the kind of picky pedant pontificating on picayune points, whose favorite phrase is “Well, actually”:
And there’s a grammatical reason for the difference. The סמיכות form doesn’t put the ה״א הידיעה on the first word, so even though it’s a specific wilderness, the specificity is indicated by the name סִינַי. בְּמִדְבַּר סִינַי means “in the wilderness of Sinai”; בַּמִּדְבָּר means “in the [generic] wilderness”. The first time in the ספר the word בַּמִּדְבָּר is used isn’t until פרק י׳.
However, the common name really does reflect something important about the parasha and about the sefer as a whole. ספר במדבר is set in the wilderness. בני ישראל have left the גלות of Egypt and become a nation, but have not yet entered the גאולה of Israel.
Becoming a nation in the wilderness, בַּמִּדְבָּר, has an important implication for the mission of בני ישראל.
But first, a note from Rav Shimon Schwab. The chronology of ספר במדבר is famously out of sequence. It’s the proof that אין מוקדם ומאוחר בתורה. This parasha is dated באחד לחדש השני בשנה השנית. But in פרק ז, we have the dedication of the משכן, which happened on the first of ניסן, the first month:
The problem then is that our parasha names the נשיאים:
This implies that the נשיאים were first introduced now:
But they are all listed by name in next week’s parasha, which takes place a month before.
The answer is that they were נשיאים before the census of this week’s parasha, but now they have a different role. This is apparently a demotion, but it is what qualifies them to lead this transformation of בני ישראל:
And it’s not just the נשיאים. The mission of בני ישראל is to not only get the Torah, but to give the Torah. Torah has to be הפקר, ownerless.
And that goes back to the first חג השבועות, at הר סיני:
We all know the Rashi about וַיִּחַן שָׁם יִשְׂרָאֵל:
But there was a prerequisite:
And the goal of creation is for everyone to receive the Torah.
Well, actually the book should be called ספר בַּמִּדְבָּר.