Parshat Bamidbar

Torah Reading for Week of May 5-11, 2013

“Prepare Your Soul: Experience the Wilderness”
By Ronnie Abrams, AJRCA Senior Chaplaincy Student


Did we find our soul in the Wilderness or did our soul find us there?

What must it have been like in the camp of the Israelites before the giving of the Torah, among these people who had witnessed the great miracle of being brought out of Egypt and given their freedom?  In the camp, we can imagine a people who were involved with and consumed by everyday decisions of life such as new births, the raising of children and the tending to their animals.  We are told that these were a people who continually complained.  Often times Moses was frustrated with them and turned to the Eternal One for help and patience.

Even when it came time for them to encamp in order to get ready to have the most life-changing moment of all, the receiving of the Torah, there was disagreement in the camp.  How do we know this?  The commentaries explain that the tribes were told to encamp in a specific order around the Tabernacle.  But the encampment is listed three different times with three different orders. (Bamidbar 1:5-15, 20-43, and 2:3-31)  Ibn Ezra and Malbim seek to explain the Torah’s logic with multiple explanations about the family’s birthright.  However, if we were to observe these people’s reactions on a daily basis, would it not be normative behavior for them to have disagreements about even something as basic as how to place themselves around the Tabernacle?  Do we not know these people as ‘stiff-necked’ and a complaining people?  

How did these people move from this life of everyday disagreements to preparing themselves for the moment that would change each one of their lives, let alone, the world? 

The answer is that one takes time out of everyday life and converts it into a time of soul purity, with three days of internal preparation.  One becomes like the earth under one’s feet and the heavens above one’s head.  Their souls begin the transformation that would allow each person in the camp to become one entity, one soul, and many individuals, at the same time, each ready for his/her own miraculous experience.

 Chazal tell us that the Torah was given to us in the second year; not the first, (Bamidbar 1:1) and that is because we did not yet know how to receive the Law in the first year (exemplified by the creation of the golden calf). (Exodus 32-34)  But in this second year, in the expanse of the wilderness we were able to take the three days and purify our souls in preparation of the Torah; this Torah which would then lead us through the wilderness with direction for the rest of our lives no matter where we would be.

We could ask ourselves if this story of the wilderness is as important to us today as it was to the B’nai Israel when the Torah was first given. This question is answered by each one of us as we stand before our own Sinai receiving our own Torah.  Perhaps today, in the 21stcentury, we may also need to take some days of preparation in order to be able to find our individual soul and, in doing so,  hear that singular Jewish soul that calls out to all of us to find our own soul’s potential for growth.  Today we may need time to find our soul in order to once again receive our Torah with clarity of mind and purpose of heart. 

May we all find HaMakom (The Place) that will open our individual soul to our own wilderness that allows for the growth and life’s potential of a singular Jewish soul.

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