Parshat Bamidbar

Torah Reading for Week of May 9 – May 15, 2010

“What is Your Role in Bringing Holiness to Our World?”

by Robert M. Weiser, M.S.P.
AJRCA Second Year Chaplaincy Student



Males 20 years of age or older

Must be strong enough to bear arms

Must be counted in upcoming census

Details to follow

Parsha Bamidbar recounts G-d’s very specific instructions to Moses for the taking of a census of the Israelites so that they could know the number of men available to defend the people and the Tent of Holy Meeting. In a clear and direct style, the first book of Numbers begins:

On the first day of the second month, in the second year following the exodus from the land of Egypt, the Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the Tent of Meeting, saying: Take a census of the whole Israelite community by the clans of its ancestral houses listing the names, every male, head by head. You and Aaron shall record them by their groups, from the age of twenty years up, all those in Israel who are able to bear arms.” (JPS Tanach, Num 1:2). >

Here, Moses and Aaron are appointed as the head census takers in charge of the large task of counting what would eventually be over 600,000 Israelites and 22,000 Levites. The first census is the census of the majority, who are collectively called the “Israelites” (the 11 of the 12 ‘houses’ or tribes of Jacob From Reuven through Naphtali).

Of particular interest to me in this parsha is the emphasis placed on the tribe of Levi and the way that the Torah sets them apart from the majority of Israel.

Aaron and Moses are the great-grandchildren of Levi, and are descended from Levi’s son, Kohath, who was the father of Amram (Moses and Aaron’s and Miriam’s father). The text repeatedly emphasizes the separation of the Levites from the Israelites by declaring “Do not on any account enroll the tribe of Levi or take a census of them with the Israelites.” (Num 1:49). It then goes on to describe the unique role assigned to the Levites: “You shall put the Levite in charge of the Tabernacle of the Pact, all its furnishings, and everything that pertains to it: they shall carry the Tabernacle and all its furnishings, and they shall tend it; and they shall camp around the Tabernacle. When the Tabernacle is to set out, the Levites shall take it down…” Later in the story a separate census is taken of Levites, so they, too, were counted.

The Levites are assigned a role, a specific role and a special role in the spiritual life of all concerned. They serve the Israelites who will need the spiritual upliftment as they tend to their jobs and daily lives in the Sinai wilderness-just as we seek sanctuary when we feel the need for connecting to our Higher Selves as a relief from the busy-ness in our own wildernesses.

The metaphor of a special role of tending to the Tabernacle indicates the sanctity of caring for that space where the Shechinah, or Holy Presence, resides. I do not choose to see the Levites as a “better” class because of their spiritual duties, but they are spiritually elevated (and privileged) by their unique role to not only be closer in physical space to the Shechinah, but also because of their heightened role in service to the Israelites. This is similar to the privilege I have in my role as a hospital chaplain where I regularly experience The Holy Presence in my work as I serve my patients and staff in my own “tabernacle”.

While there was a class society in biblical times, as there is in modern day, there is no class society in the spiritual realm. G-d loves and parents his earthly children, regardless of socio-economic class or physical status. Just as the Levites were ascribed the unique job of taking care of the Tabernacle, so do the Jews as a nation have the unique mission of bringing holiness to our world. We do this when we choose work roles that resonate with our core being.

When you open yourself to listening to your Inner Being, that inner voice of your heart will tell you in your dreams, bodily sensations and life experiences what those authentic work roles are for you. Do you know what your authentic work roles are? Are you employing your G-d-given gifts and taking them out into your world? Are you experiencing joy in your work the majority of the time? If not, I encourage you to take your own personal spiritual census. If it is unclear to you how to do this, spiritual counselors have the skills to help you get closer to your Authentic Voice and establishing a relationship with It. (AJR|CA has many resources in this realm).

May you be aware and accept your unique gifts and bring them out into the world with joy. When your gifts are actualized in physical world reality, you willexperience joy, and this is your way of bringing holiness and the Holy Presence into our world.

Shabbat shalom.

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