A Talmudist from Odessa was granted permission to visit Moscow. He boarded the train and found an empty seat. At the next stop, a young man got on and sat next to him.
The scholar looked at the young man and thought: This fellow doesn't look like a peasant, and if he isn't a peasant he probably comes from this district. If he comes from this district, then he must be Jewish because this is, after all, a Jewish district.
On the other hand, if he is a Jew, where could he be going? I'm the only Jew in our district with permission to travel to Moscow. But just outside Moscow there is a little village called Samvet, and Jews don't need special permission to go there.
But, why would he be going to Samvet? He's probably going to visit one of the Jewish families there, but how many Jewish families are there in Samvet? Only two: the Bernsteins and the Steinbergs. The Bernsteins are a terrible family, and a nice looking fellow like him must be visiting the Steinbergs.
But why is he going? The Steinbergs have only daughters, so maybe he's their son-in-law. But if he is, then which daughter did he marry? They say that Sarah married a nice lawyer from Budapest, and Esther married a businessman from Kiev, so he must be Sarah's husband, Alexander Cohen, if I'm not mistaken.
But, if he comes from Budapest, with all the anti-Semitism they have there, he must have changed his name. What's the Hungarian equivalent of Cohen? Kovacs. But if they allowed him to change his name, he must have some special status. What could it be? A doctorate from the University. At this point the scholar turns to the young man and says, "How do you do, Dr. Kovacs?"
"Very well, thank you, sir." answered the startled passenger. "But how is it that you know my name?"
"Oh," replied the Talmudist," it was obvious.
I hope the rest of my drash will be equally transparent.
This week's parsha is the final one in the book of Numbers, Bamidbar. Chazak, chazak, v-nithchazaik. Bamidbar, of course, means "in the desert," and the book chronicles that time in our history. In fact the first chapter of this week's portion is a summary of forty years of wandering in the desert; we pause to summarize and recount. Why forty years? Forty is an important number in the Jewish tradition. Where else does forty appear? It rained for forty days and forty nights without stoppin'. It rained so hard that the water stopped a droppin'. Let's get back to the desert. I understand that after thirty-nine and a half yearsTzipporah, Moses' wife, secretly stopped to ask for directions. Forty years is a long time. Fifty years is an even longer time. My parents have been married for fifty years, and they had to cross a desert to get to CA, their promised land. And whose idea was it to come to CA? Not Moses', I mean my dad's, but Tzipporah's, I mean my mom's.
What is the Hebrew way of denoting forty? Well, this year is 5764, Taf Shin Samech Daled. The Hey (five thousand) is implicit, so we write it simply as Taf (four hundred), Shin (three hundred), Samech (sixty), and Daled (four). Samech is sixty, so reciting the Alef-Bet backward from Samech, we have Nun (fifty) and Mem (forty). So Mem is forty and Nun is fifty. Now, if we were to take the Hungarian words for GrandMa and GrandPa (who knows what these words are?) and transliterate them into Hebrew, they would start with a Nun, which denotes fifty! Aha! The logic is emerging!
Numbers --- not so much the book of, but the ones we count with --- are very important in my family. The first game I remember learning as a young child is affectionately called, "The Number Game." I suspect the teaching of the Number Game really began in the womb. How many people here are familiar with the number game? Who knows sixteen plus sixteen? How about 2048 plus 2048? How about 1,048,288 plus 1,048,288? Let me just say that this tradition continues.
This weekend we pause and commemorate fifty years of marriage between my mom and dad. You all know how wonderful they are. Today we have a convergence of family and family friends that rarely happens outside of Pesach. It's wonderful to be here to share this Simcha with you all.
Chazak, Chazak, V'nitchazaik. Let us be strong; let us be strong and strengthen one another.