The Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 428:4) tells us “Leolam parshas Bamidbar Sinai kodem Atzeres” – “The reading of parsha Bamidbar always comes [immediately] before [the Yom Tov of] Shavuos” (The Biur Halacha points out that there are some exceptions to this rule, such as a year with two Adars where Naso will be the parsha immediately preceding Shavuos). The commentaries grapple with this rule. For all Chazal tell us (Megillah 31b) is that it is vital that (last week’s parsha) Bechukosai – a somber parsha that contains the many curses that can befall a non-observant nation, should be read before Shavuos in order to “get it out of the way” before we celebrate the joyous festival and its themes of spiritual birth and renewal. No mention, however, is made by Chazal regarding the reading of Bamidbar. So why is Shulchan Aruch insistent that we must also read Bamidbar before the Yom Tov? What lies within this parsha (ironically one of the very few parshiyos that do not contain any of the 613 mitzvos) that makes it necessary for Yidden to read as they approach the Yom Tov that celebrates the receiving of the Torah at Sinai? (See Tosfos ibid who suggests that Bechukosai is so chillingly overwhelming we need to use Bamidbar as a buffer zone between it and the Yom Tov of Shavuos.)
Perhaps we can suggest the following: The Kedushas Levi (Parshas Bo) asks why we call the Yom Tov of the 15th of Nissan “Chag HaPesach” when the Torah calls it “Chag HaMatzos”? He explains beautifully that there are two themes to the Yom Tov of Pesach. It commemorates our Exodus, which began on the night of the 15th of Nissan when Hashem smote all the Egyptian firstborn but spared Bnai Yisrael by passing over (pesach) the Jewish houses. It also was the beginning of a willingness of a nation to follow Hashem and rely upon Him for its survival . This is symbolized with the matza – the only food that the Yidden took with them as they headed into the deserts of the Middle East. Hashem wants to show us His appreciation for our allegiance, and therefore when making reference in the Torah to the Yom Tov that commemorates this He calls it Chag haMatzos, the festival of the matza. Bnai Yisrael however, want to reciprocate and show their appreciation for what Hashem did for them at that time, and thus they call it Chag HaPesach – the festival of the passing-over.
As we approach the Yom Tov of Shavuos I believe we find these reciprocal expressions of love and admiration once again. Since the second day of Pesach, Yidden throughout the world have been involved in the mitzva of Sefiras Ha’Omer. The Sefer HaChinuch tells us that the Sefira is a count-up to the day that Hashem gave us the Torah. This means that every time a Yid counts the Sefira he is communicating his growing excitement of the fact that Hashem shared His beloved Torah with Am Yisrael. We see that Hashem, too, enjoys counting. For much of this parsha is spent with the census of the Bnai Yisrael that took place in the second year of their journey through the desert when Hashem instructed Moshe Rabainu to take a head-count. Rashi, quoting Chazal, points out that this is the third time in just over a year that Hashem is asking for a tally of the Yidden. This, he explains, is due to Hashem’s vivid love for His cherished nation. Hashem expresses this love by Him asking for a count at certain pivotal moments in our history such as at this juncture when (in the second year of the Exodus) Hashem’s presence has just moved in amongst the Yidden, residing in the newly erected Mishkan.
And thus as we are counting what is near and dear to us, namely Hashem and His Torah, through the skillful positioning of this parsha we see à la Kedushas Levi, that Hashem is alongside us counting, too, what is near and dear to Him.
Have a great Shabbos.
Rabbi Nosson Greenberg is rov of Khal Machzikei Torah of Far Rockaway, N.Y., and maggid shiur at Yeshiva of Far Rockaway.