Bamidbar 5780

Nothing is Forever

The construction of the Mishkan is the subject of the final chapters of the book of Exodus. The role of the Kohanim (priests) and the descriptions of the sacrifices offered in the desert sanctuary (the Mishkan) occupy the opening chapters of the book of Leviticus. The all opening chapters of Numbers, this week’s Torah reading ,is a manual on how the Mishkan was to be disassembled prior to Israelites breaking camp and moving to another location. There are specific details regarding the role of the Levites and the Kohanim in caring for its sacred objects.

The Mishkan, while portable, served as the central sanctuary not only in the desert, but for many years following settlement of the Israelites in the Promised Land. When David established his kingdom in Jerusalem he turned his attention to building a permanent house to the glory of God.

This dream was undertaken by his son, Solomon, who spared no expense to create this magnificent holy temple that would be the eternal symbol of God’s relationship with his eternal people. In 586 BCE Nebuchadnezzar, the ruler of Babylonia then the world’s most powerful nation put an end to the dream. He conquered Judea and reduced Solomon’s glorious Temple to ashes.

Nebuchadnezzar perceived himself as standing astride of all humanity. He felt chosen by God to rule the world. His chief advisor was Daniel who at a young age was among the captives taken to Babylon following the conquest of Judea and the destruction of the temple. He received special training, was renamed Belteshazzar and ultimately became Nebuchadnezzar’s most trusted counselor. Chapter 4 in the book that bears his name records Nebuchadnezzar’s dream that foretold his loss of the throne

This dire message unsettled the king, but the book continues, “At the end of twelve months he was walking in the palace of the kingdom of Babylon he spoke and said, is not this a great Babylon that I have built is a royal resident’s by the might of my power and the honor of my Majesty?” (Daniel 4: 26, 27)

Despite the dire prediction Nebuchadnezzar held fast to this conviction that what he had built was indestructible and that his rule could not be challenged. He was however quickly disabused of this notion as described in the next verse. “While the word was in the king’s mouth a voice fell from heaven saying o king Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: the kingdom is departed from you And this did come to pass ” (v.28).

Even the most powerful of all humans in the most glorious and sturdy of their works cannot withstand the passage of time. Yet those who aspire to greatness, achieve great power and create “lasting” monumental attesting to their achievements, cannot and will not withstand the vicissitudes of time.

Nebuchadnezzar was stripped of power by a divine edict. Even those who hold great power believing as did Louis XIV, l’etat ces’t moi – I am the state, are ultimately moved from their high perch. Power is lost or shifts through revolution of the masses, palace intrigue, assassination and democratic elections. This should be a sobering thought to those who are convinced that their power remains unchallenged and unaffected by the passage of time.

For Nebuchadnezzar the messenger of his fallibility was the heavenly voice. In our day might it be the dreaded COVID-19 virus?

From the holy city of Jerusalem my best wishes for a Shabbat Shalom u’Mevorach, a Shabbat of peace and blessing.

Rabbi Arnold M. Goodman
Senior Rabbinic Scholar