Ramban Bamidbar

Becoming Our Best Selves, with a Divine Background

by R. Gidon Rothstein Ramban to the Book of Bamidbar: Becoming Our Best Selves, with a Divine Background I built this project on an assumption: by taking comments of Ramban’s as they appealed to me, with no attempt to relate them to each other, I would over the course of time nonetheless find recurring motifs, which would reflect underlying concerns of ...

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Living Spaces

by R. Gidon Rothstein Ramban to Mas’ei: Living Spaces The last parsha of Bamidbar opens by listing the places the Jews had encamped along their forty-year journey. Rashi here and Rambam in the Guide for the Perplexed (3;50) offer reasons for the choice to include the whole list [in brief, Rashi thought the list shows Hashem’s compassion while administering the punishment of forty years of wandering, and Rambam ...

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Making Rules and Misusing Them

by R. Gidon Rothstein Ramban to Matot: Making Rules and Misusing Them Parshat Matot opens with rules of vows, and Ramban lays out some central differences between a vow (the common translation for neder) and an oath (shevu’ah; as with all translations, the exact meaning matters less than ensuring we know the full connotations of the word in the original language, which Ramban ...

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Permutations of Power

by R. Gidon Rothstein Speaking Truth to Power Last time, we saw Ramban argue Pinchas helped the Jews by stopping the plague. Hashem had wanted the judges to calm the divine wrath which was fueling the plague by trying and punishing the demonstrably guilty, but Zimri interfered. Once the judges were prevented from doing their job, the plague would have ...

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Bil’am Brings the Supernatural to the Fore

by R. Gidon Rothstein [Parshat Balak is unusual in its largely taking place outside the purview of the Jewish people. Unless the Moabite women they slept with told them (or they read about it in the Torah), the Jewish people would never have known what happened between Balak and Bil’am. To me, it’s a reminder of how we little we know ...

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Death and War

by R. Gidon Rothstein The Nature of the Impurity of Death My temerity in thinking I can communicate Ramban’s ideas briefly and accessibly depends on my selection process, where I often leave out deep and important claims of Ramban’s I do not know how to convey. To stretch myself a bit, let’s discuss his understanding of 19;2, where the Torah ...

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Silence, Sanctity, and Separateness

by R. Gidon Rothstein The rebellion of Korach and ensuing events take up most of Pinchas. Since the rebellion itself has garnered much valuable and insightful discussion, I have chosen places where Ramban discussed ancillary aspects, to tread ground not overly overrun with others’ steps. Aharon’s Silence Korach and his group issue their challenge to both Moshe and Aharon, but 16;4 says Moshe ...

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Our National Nadir, the Spies

by R. Gidon Rothstein John F. Kennedy’s characterization of failure as a lonely orphan explains Ramban’s surprise at how Rashi ascribes to Moshe the idea of sending spies to Israel. Hashem says “shelach lecha anashim,” and Rashi picks up on the lecha, you, to say Hashem gave grudging acceptance. Which would seem to put Moshe in the wrong, since he tells ...

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Inclusiveness, Second Chances, Kindness, and Protection

by R. Gidon Rothstein Ramban’s comments to this week’s parsha allowed me to get back to my original plan, to find a range of comments from different parts of the portion, to see whether they coalesce around some central ideas. Here, it seems to me they did, around the idea of selection, choosing carefully what to include in various categories, and why. ...

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Population issues

by R. Gidon Rothstein Counting People or Coins In English, Bamidbar is known as Numbers, partially because it opens (and closes, in Parshat Pinchas) with enumerations of the Jewish people. The second and third verses of the book use several terms for counting the people, Ramban focuses on the root pkd, as in tifkedu otam, commonly and reasonably translated as “count them.” In Bereshit, the Torah uses ...

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