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Rabbi's Blog

rabbi 05 smallsf badge lgRabbi Joel Landau  ( has been the Rabbi of Adath Israel since May 2013. He was ordained by the Chief Rabbinate in Jerusalem and has served previously as a congregational Rabbi in Charleston, South Carolina and Irvine, California. A full biography of Rabbi Landau is available here.


This past Tuesday, I once again joined with a group of local Jewish leaders to meet with San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins. The purpose of the meeting was to enable our community to voice concerns, provide feedback, and advise the DA in addressing issues relevant to the Jewish community. In my opinion, the DA is a down to earth, traditional-oriented person who takes her job very seriously and is working towards making San Francisco a safer place for all residents. However, as we know, change takes time, but hopefully the crime situation in the city will improve in the not too far future. 

This week we begin the fourth book of the Torah known as Bamidbar, which translates as “in the desert/wilderness.” There are two reasons for this, one textual and one thematic. Textually, the book’s opening verse begins with “The L-rd spoke to Moses in the Desert of Sinai,” (in Hebrew, Bamidbar Sinai). Thematically, the book addresses the forty years our ancestors spent in the desert. 

The book is also called “Chumash HaPekudim,” which translates as “The Book of Numbers” due to two censuses that appear in the book’s beginning and end. 

The first parasha of the book is also called Bamidbar and it is almost always read on the Shabbat before Shavuot, the festival that commemorates the giving of the Torah.

What is the significance of Parashat Bamidbar usually preceding Shavuot?

  1. The Torah wasn’t given in a built-up and established place where people “own real-estate” and there are the haves vs. have-nots, where some people have first rights etc. The Torah was given in a wilderness, where everyone has access, it is open to all.
  2. To teach us that Torah can take root, survive, thrive & flourish anywhere. Torah isn’t better suited or destined for special holier places. It was given in a wilderness, a desert, to remind us of that. Torah belongs anywhere we are.
  3. A major theme in Bamidbar/The Book of Numbers is censuses. The fact that every person was counted individually teaches us that people count. You need everyone on board. Torah isn’t for the top third or only the interested kids.
  4. Bamidbar speaks of the travels of the Jews in the wilderness, how the Tabernacle was disassembled & reassembled for their forty-two stops. To a degree this resembles the Torah in Jewish history - packing it up, taking it along, reestablishing it anywhere we ended up. 
  5. Bamidbar describes the flags of the tribes. In many ways, Torah is our banner, our emblem, our allegiance, our unifying & rallying pennant. “And the flag was still there” despite and throughout everything our people have endured ever since we became a people at Mt. Sinai.