Last week, in Parasha Behar-Bechukotai (On the Mount–By My Decrees), we read that the agricultural land in Israel was to have a rest every seven years. We also read about the Jubilee Year, which followed seven cycles of seven years, when the Israelites were released of their debts and could return to their inherited lands.
This week’s Parasha studies the opening chapters of the Book of Numbers. In Hebrew, the Book of Numbers is called Bamidbar, which means in the wilderness or desert.
The Hebrew name for the Book of Numbers comes from the fifth word of the opening line of Numbers: “The Lord spoke to Moses in the Tent of Meeting in the Desert [Bamidbar] of Sinai.” (Numbers 1:1)
The Hebrew word midbar (desert) comes from the same root as m’daber, which means to speak.
It’s often during the wilderness times of our lives that God speaks to our hearts.
El Shaddai: What’s in a Name?
“Take a census of the whole Israelite community by their clans and families, listing every man by name.” (Numbers 1:2)
In Numbers 1, Moshe (Moses) is commanded to take a census of all adult males. They are numbered according to family and name, by their father’s houses.
In Jewish tradition, names carried significant meaning; for example, Elitzur (Numbers 1:5) means My God (Eli) is a rock (Tzur).
Of the twelve men who were to assist Moses and Aaron in taking the census, nine of them contained the Divine name, El (God) in their own names.
Three of their names contained Tzur (Rock), which is frequently used for God, as in Tzur Yisrael (Rock of Israel) or Rock of Ages. (Numbers 1:6–15)
The name Shaddai, which is a revealing word study, also appears three times in the names of the men.
The compound El Shaddai is usually translated God Almighty in English Bibles, but this label does not begin to do justice to the meaning of this name of God.
“When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, ‘I am God Almighty [El Shaddai]; walk before me and be blameless.” (Genesis 17:1)
Shaddai is derived from a Hebrew root shadad, which means to overpower.
Interestingly enough, this root also can mean a demonic power. Therefore, El Shaddai also means that God overpowers or prevails against all demonic powers.
“Wail, for the day of the Lord is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty [Shaddai].” (Isaiah 13:6)
Shaddai is also derived from the Hebrew root shad, which means breast. This reveals the maternal, merciful nature of God.
If we read the Word carefully, we will see this aspect of God’s nature as Shaddai – the woman’s breast – the source of nourishment and comfort to her children.
“…because of the Almighty [Shaddai], who blesses you with blessings of the skies above, blessings of the deep springs below, blessings of the breast [shadim] and womb.” (Genesis 49:25)
We know from the Book of Genesis, that we were created in God’s image as male and female. As strange as it may seem to us, God is not only a Father, He is also a mother.
God has many names in the Tanakh (Old Testament). He is our rock, provider, and much more. He is everything we need.
This was proven when Moses asked God for His true name. God answered, “Ehye Asher Ehye,” which though commonly translated as “I am who I am,” is more accurately translated as “I will be what I will be” (Exodus 3:14).
In this one name alone, we can call on El Shaddai to be our comforter, nurturer and savior.
“The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.” (Proverbs 18:10)
Haftarah (Prophetic Portion)
Today’s Parasha and Haftarah share the themes of wilderness and numbering Israel.
In the Parasha, Moses takes a census, and in the Haftarah, God promises that “the Israelites will be like the sand on the seashore, which cannot be measured or counted” (Hosea 1:10, which is Hosea 2:1 in the Hebrew text).
In Genesis 15:5, God also likens the numbers of Israel to the stars:
“He took him outside and said, ‘Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’”
Can Suffering Be Ordained by God?
The Haftarah (prophetic portion) promises that God will allure Israel, bring her back to the Land, and that the relationship between God and Israel would be, once again, like a healthy marriage:
“Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. There she will respond as in the days of her youth, as in the day she came up out of Egypt. ‘In that day,’ declares the Lord, ‘you will call me ‘my husband.’” (Hosea 2:14–16)
To understand the themes of marriage, betrayal and redemption in Hosea, we must understand Hosea’s situation.
God instructed him to take a harlot for a wife—a woman who was seemingly destined to be unfaithful to him. The rabbis, in fact, believe that Hosea’s resulting domestic tragedy was actually ordained by God.
Through his personal ordeal and the agonizing pain of loving a woman who would turn to other men, Hosea came to understand at a very deep level how God feels about Israel, His unfaithful Bride.
“Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.” (Hosea 3:1)