D’var Torah For Friday, May 19, 2023
There are certain auspicious dates in history, some for the worse and some for the better. In terms of American pop culture, one of the most significant dates in recent memory was February 9, 1964. On that date, Nielson counted nearly 73 million people, representing almost half of all U.S. households with televisions, who tuned in to witness the Beatles sing “All my loving” on the Ed Sullivan show. They sang four songs that night including “Till there was you,” “I wanna hold your hand,” and “I saw her standing there.” It was the height of Beatlemania. Over 40% of every woman, man and child in the United States were glued to Sullivan that night. It was quite possibly the greatest ratings success of all time.
However, this success did not come without hard work. In the words of Malcolm Gladwell who wrote in his book Outliers, “Lennon and McCartney first started playing together in 1957, seven years prior to landing in America … in 1960, while they were still just a struggling high school rock band, they were invited to play in Hamburg, Germany. Hamburg in those days did not have rock-and-roll music clubs. It had strip clubs … And what was so special about Hamburg? It wasn’t that it paid well. It didn’t. Or that the acoustics were fantastic. They weren’t. Or that the audiences were savvy and appreciative. They were anything but. It was the sheer amount of time the band was forced to play.”1
Here Gladwell is talking about the 10,000-hour “rule of thumb” to get really good anything. I was thinking about this in terms of this week’s Torah portion, Bemidbar which contains not one but two censuses for counting certain groups in the Israelite community. According to the Midrash, the Israelites were counted a total of four times in the Torah, with this being the final counting. The rabbis ask: why is this so?
They answer, “A person invests time and effort to inspect and count objects that are precious to him. The more valuable the item, the more carefully he will scrutinize it.” (Midrash Bemidbar 2:19). God wanted the people to be counted because they, and by extension we, are so valuable to God.
In addition, we are also continuing the countdown from Passover to Shavu’ot, known as the counting of the Omer. We are commanded to count the 49 days just as the Israelites did in the Torah from their Exodus to the receiving of Torah.
Now we do not need to count 10,000 hours of practice in order to celebrate Shabbat, instead we just need the space, the time and spiritual fortitude to find a way to do so. So, in a way, as we celebrate Shabbat with the assistance of the melodies from the Beatles, what we are really celebrating is a tradition that compels us to find ways to meaningfully connect with tradition. We may not have 73 million people tune in, but we are certainly hoping it will be a Shabbat for the ages.
And as a reminder, not only is it Beatles Shabbat, but it is also Chai Shabbat and it is the night before Kyle Berkowitz’s Bar Mitzvah, who will be teaching us more about Bemidbar tomorrow morning. There is certainly a lot to celebrate tonight, and we hope you are able to join us.