Blog Bamidbar Iyar 29th 5780 בלוג בְּמִדְבַּר, כ”ט אייר תש”פ
Bamidbar (In the Desert), also called Numbers is a book that deals less with rules and regulations and is more about the development of Israel as a community during their last thirty-eight years in the desert. The journey was supposed to take eleven days but in the third year just as they were about to enter the Promised Land, Moshe sent messengers to explore it; they returned with a bad report demonstrating that they had very little trust in the Creator. As we delve into this book, I will be discussing the importance of living within community and learning how to trust the Creator. He is not static; He is constantly moving forward. We see that with the twelve tribes becoming thirteen when the tribe of Joseph was split into Ephraim and Manasseh.
The only thing that the Creator gave us that is literally “written in stone” are the Ten Commandments; everything else is an explanation, instruction and commentary on these Ten. That is why we Jewish people say that we live in the grey area rather than being black and white, like those who are religious fanatics or interpret everything literally. Having been given free will, we need to learn to have discernment and to be responsible for our actions. Our sages speak of the Yetzer Ra (evil inclination) and Yetzer Tov (good inclination) יצר הרע ויצר טוב to show us the importance of having balance in our lives. This helps us learn how-to live-in community, to be responsible for ourselves and those around us.
We need to learn to apply the principles of the Torah according to the times in which we are living. The Torah gives us both ritual and moral laws. The ritual laws applied to the times in which the Israelites were being formed as a distinct nation, separated for a purpose while the moral laws remain immutable and eternal. Today, certain circles hold the ritual laws as sacred and untouchable while they view moral laws as individual choice. That is why Bamidbar is so important. It deals with us having to make decisions daily about fairness, justice, equality and always with the Creator in our midst. This is what He was teaching us when we read about what the new community of Israel had to deal with.
In the last verses of the first chapter of Bamidbar, the Levites, as the thirteenth tribe, were to encamp around the Mishkan haEdut מִשְׁכַּן הָעֵדוּת, the tabernacle of testimony. Every child of Israel would camp with his own banner under his own chief and the Levites would be the fence between the Mishkan haEdut מִשְׁכַּן הָעֵדוּת and the people who were “obedient in everything that the LORD commanded Moshe כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה יְהוָה, אֶת-מֹשֶׁה”. The Creator gave the people their own role; each would have a special function. The Levites and the sons of Aaron, Gershon, Kehat and Merari, each had a function and were equally important. In community we are all equal; He was calling us to have unity not uniformity. Each office was important. This is a picture of the Creator bringing order to His people.
A mosaic is a beautiful picture composed of small colored ceramic tiles. From a distance, we can see the entire picture but when we get too close, it is lost. That is what Numbers 1:51b is referring to… “…and the hazar הַזָּר, the stranger that approaches the tabernacle shall be put to death.” (In other words, an Israelite who was not a Levite with their specific function.) Hebrew is a language of pictures. Every man needed to stay in his own tribe. Again, the idea of God bringing order, where your rights end, the rights of your neighbor begins. The essence of this message is for us to seek the role in which we excel and remain obedient and dedicated to this role within the community. If we remove even one small piece of the mosaic, the entire picture is changed. We are each special and important and are not to envy or take someone else’s designated role within community.
Those who were counted to be in the army shows us that He was choosing the stronger to protect the weaker among us. This is also demonstrated in how He divided up leaders of each the four camps to the east and west, to the north and south. Living in the desert was dangerous and the only protection they had was to live within the community. Anyone separated or put outside the camp faced certain death. Modern society has lost the understanding that every member of the community is important; even the weak and poor among us serve a purpose. The most vital organ of the body is the heart, though we cannot see it. In community. often the most vital person is the one who cannot be seen. The Creator was showing us this through the lives of Moshe and Aaron. They were called to serve the people, not vice versa; quite opposite to the leaders of today who demand that everyone serve them. When we do not do what we are called to do, our community suffers.
The people would have to live in the middle of the desert and their only hope of survival was to remain within the community. When we separate ourselves from our spiritual community, we slowly drown. Israel would only survive united. Again, unity does not mean uniformity. When we lose our individuality, our color, our unique flavor, we destroy the mosaic. The Creator has prepared each of us for something special and it is up to us to find it. Perhaps you are already fulfilling your calling, but you may not realize it because you don’t value yourself. In the Messianic Writings, Rabbi Shaul told us that we should stay according to how we have been called. He also spoke of the various parts of the bodies and their value to the whole. Let us use whatever talents He has given us for His glory within our own communities. Let us not isolate ourselves but value our place within our congregations. Let us be the best that we can be and serve as a light to others wherever He has placed us.