Parshat Bamidbar

Torah Reading for Week of May 18-24, 2014


β€œChosen for What?”
By Ms. Judy Aronson, Professor of Jewish Education

When I teach students the Torah blessings, I ask β€œFor what have we been chosen?” In my life, it seems I have been singled out to study Parashat Bamidbar. Growing up in New England, I wondered what a desert was. All I knew was what I saw in Westerns when men on horseback trotted across vast expanses of desolate sand.

During the week of my Confirmation in 1948 we studied Parashat Bamidbar. When I was teaching an Adult B’nai Mitzvah class a few years ago I was surprised to find out that their portion was Bamidbar. This year when the faculty had an opportunity to select a drash, I chose Bamidbar to reconnect me with that class and what they had written in their sixteen essays. Here are some of their thoughts.

β€œWhen I travel into unfamiliar territory, I feel vulnerable, similar to the Israelites in the wilderness.”

β€œThe Book of Numbers is likened to a person in middle age who is often in crisis and trying to figure out the path they’ve been crossing.”

β€œI have always believed that numbers can tell powerful stories. So, it warmed this accountant’s heart to know that our Torah portion starts the Book of Numbers.”

β€œWhen wandering the desert, delirious with physical and spiritual thirst, one would find little succor in Bamidbar. It is a dry passage, devoid of dramatic narrative or poetry, defying easy personal relevance.”

β€œThe Torah portion finds the Israelites just thirteen months into their journey out of Egypt. With the help of tribal leaders, Moses leads a census of the men in each of the twelve tribes. The tribes then camp in specific locations around the Tabernacle, with Aaron and his sons responsible for observing priestly duties within the Tabernacle holding the ark. Yet the portion ends with outlining of responsibilities to erect the Tabernacle including oils, incense, and offerings; silent to the future of 39 more years of wandering the desert, likely erecting, transporting, and re-erecting the Tabernacle overΒ  and over again.”

β€œTo be counted (to count) empowered an Israelite and put order to chaos. The command was ‘Ki tisa et rosh...’ β€˜lift up the head of the community of the children of Israel.’ It took pride to lift up their heads, and this pride can bring spiritual fulfillment.”

These quotations have given me access to the text as my students described it. The following quotations look at the some of their conclusions.

β€œI loved learning that the Torah was relatable to my life today. I then came to the conclusion that I wanted to walk with my children on their journey and learn with them. I didn’t want to be left behind for the second time.”

β€œThese studies introduced me to the beautiful and fascinating journey of learning how to chant Torah. It is a path that intertwines challenging skills, helps link me to our most sacred text, and promotes mindful presence in prayer.”

β€œWe all count, figuratively and literally. As Psalms 90:12 says, β€˜Teach us to count our days rightly that we may obtain a wise heart.’”

β€œI count myself a second-generation American, a woman, a Californian, and a Jew.”

β€œAs in our Torah portion today, it is time for me to be counted in the household of the people of Israel, for me to lift up my head with the dignity that comes from my commitment to G-d and the covenant of our people.”

β€œI’m on a journey. There is much to learn but I am on the way.”

β€œBeing counted as a Jew is important to me. Judaism is not just a spiritual connection, it means my being part of a complete fabric woven throughout all aspects of my life.”

β€œI find that I am a receiver, transmitter, and protector of our heritage.”

β€œThere are those who view the past as merely history with no implication for the present or future. I do not. I was and am very lucky. Like Bamidbar, I am aware of the importance of census.”

β€œDespite Groucho Marx’s oft-quoted saying that he wouldn’t belong to a club that would have him as a member, no one wants to be the lowly tribesman standing outside the Tabernacle. For as fundamental as exclusion may be to human nature, the desire to be counted is equally human.”

β€œMy journey is far from over. Hineini. Here I am.”

β€œAnd so, after hours of squeezing the impassive text for a drop of meaning, when it showed itself, it was a reward. On May 11, sixteen tribes of us will gather to be tallied, instructed and to be of service. We will be sorted into battalions and trades, separate and together, and will fan out to protect the ark. And because we don’t believe the world’s wisdom was capped 3000 years ago, now those who choose to, regardless of gender, age, orientation, corporal imperfection, or previous faiths and associations, can stand among us. We are presenting ourselves for duty: count us.”

Rereading what my students wrote I am awed and inspired. As my current class of adult B’nai Mitzvah candidates at Temple Israel of Hollywood prepares to read Parashat Bamidbar onΒ May 23, 2015, I can say,Β β€œThere is still much to learn but I am on my way.”

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