In the Warner Bros. movie 42, writer Brian Helgeland narrates the story of Jackie Robinson, the first African American to play Major League Baseball. The dominant theme of the movie is the ugliness of bigotry and racism that African Americans faced at the time. A second theme, more subtly developed, is that of “love conquers all.” This can be seen as Jackie is able to get through hatred and challenges with the aid of his loving wife. She readily leaves Pasadena, California to travel an unchartered road, sacrificing her career to stand lovingly and supportively by his side. As long as she does this, Jackie is able to achieve greatness. This message of “love conquers all” can be found in this week’s Parashah, BeMidbar.
The very first Rashi on this week’s Parashah is slightly unusual in that he comments on three separate phrases: “VaYiDabeir,” “The Lord spoke,” “BeMidbar Sinai,” “In the wilderness of Sinai,” and “BeEchad LaChodesh,” “On the first of the month” (BeMidbar 1:1).
Rashi comments that because of His abundant love for Bnei Yisrael, Hashem counts His people often. However, in the context of the Pasuk, Hashem has yet to actually start the counting. Furthermore, by picking and choosing three separate phrases from the Pasuk, Rashi seems to be forcing the issue. Is there something more to Rashi than meets the eye? Perhaps we can apply the concept of Semichut Parashiyot - the proximity of two parts of the Torah to teach us something - to decipher what Rashi is trying to tell us.
The last sentence of Sefer VaYikra begins, “Eileh HaMitzvot,” “These are the Mitzvot” (VaYikra 27:34). All the Mitzvot are given to us because of Hashem’s love for the Jews. One might sometimes be inclined to view the Mitzvot as a burden, but in reality, Mitzvot are presents from Hashem and are given out of love, similar to when a parent places a curfew on a child. Even if the child does not fully appreciate it, the curfew is for the child’s sake, and is really an expression of the parents’ undying love and care for the child. Restrictions are not a burden - quite the opposite, they should be viewed as a sign of love. Spending one day each week on Shabbat without driving or answering the phone is not a burden. It is a chance for the family to come together and to become close to Hashem. That is exactly what Rashi is teaching us here: All that Hashem does is done with love. Rashi jumped the gun on the census to teach us through Semichut Parashiyot that just as Hashem ended the book of VaYikra with love by giving us Mitzvot, Hashem is continuing that theme here in BeMidbar, and counting us because of His eternal love for us.
Parashat BeMidbar is often read on the Shabbat immediately preceding the holiday of Shavu’ot, when we received the Torah and the present of 613 Mitzvot. May we merit seeing the beauty of the Torah and its Mitzvot and the love from Hashem that they embody.