SONSINO’S COMMENTS ON THE TORAH: B'MIDBAR, FOR 5/19, 18
1. THE NAME: B'MIDBAR, “In the wilderness.” The Vulgate, the Latin translation of the Bible, calls it Numeri. Similarly, the Rabbis called it homesh hapikudim, “1/5 part of the Pentateuch that deals with numbers.”
2. The book begins 13 months after the Exodus from Egypt, and covers the 40 years the Israelites spent in the wilderness of Sinai.
3. The number 40 in the Bible should not be taken literally. Many events last that long: the Flood during Noah (Gen.7:4), Moses’ time spent upon the Sinai mountain (Ex.34:28), the number of days it took to embalm Joseph (Gen.50:3) etc. It simply means a long period of time.
4. In chapter 3, Aaron’s sons, the priests, offered “a strange fire” upon the altar. What is it? No one knows. Speculation runs deep: coals from an ordinary place; secular fire; unauthorized fire, etc.
5. The message of the Book: It seems to encourage people to move forward when embarking upon a new adventure. Progress often depends on taking the first few steps. Without taking a chance on life, little is accomplished.