July 18, 2015
2 Av 5775
This Shabbat we conclude the Book of Bamidbar, the book translated as "In the Wilderness" even though in English we call it the Book of Numbers. As Chancellor Arnold Eisen wrote in this week's Torah Commentary on Parashat Mattot - Masei, "It trades instructions for the priests and narratives of Israelite disobedience for details of land distribution, inheritance and other laws that will regulate life inside the Land. It is as if the Torah wants to underline the transition about to occur — from wilderness to settlement, disorder to order — by changing the visual image before the reader’s eyes."
We conclude the Book and the tone of wilderness changes, but we never fully leave it behind. Bamidbar is the story of our narrative, the journey our ancestors embarked upon from Egypt to the Promised Land. We faced challenges from others and peoples and from within our own people. There were attacks from other nations including the Amalekites and the Midianites. There were rebellions from within the Israelite nation that rattled our sense of well-being. Just a few week's ago we read about Korach's rebellion. Yet, there were also deeply spiritual moments between the Israelites and God. In the wilderness, the Mishkan was created, the portable sanctuary for God. In the wilderness, we experienced and trembled with the Revelation at Mt. Sinai.
Bamidbar, the experience of wandering, remains a part of our identity thousands of years later. We still struggle with threats from within and outside our community. We are still searching for greater connections with God. Bamidbar is where our religious ideals meet with everyday challenges. As we enter Shabbat, let's honor the ways in which our lives are still in wilderness, including the difficult decisions we face, the bonding that can only occur as part of a journey, and the trials and tribulations of wandering at different life junctures.