Rachael’s Thoughts on Parshat Bamidbar

This Shabbat we start reading the book of Numbers, in Hebrew, Bamidbar.  We also move immediately after Shabbat into celebrating the holiday of Shavuot, the celebration of receiving the Torah at Sinai.  While we’re excited to begin reading the next book of our Torah, we need to take a moment to notice the relationships between the book we are starting, the book we just finished, and the upcoming holiday.  They’re all connected with a message for today.

We’ve just concluded reading the book of Leviticus, named that way because it is mostly concerned with the laws of the Levites as they facilitate Jewish ritual.  It’s a book filled with rules and details that a Levite would need daily, and the rest of us…

We immediately begin reading the book of Numbers, which is misleading in its English name.  In Hebrew, the book is called Bamidbar, “In the Wilderness”.  It evokes images of grand expanses of desert, no reference points, quite literally shifting sands.  In other words, the Torah has juxtaposed two realities for us: the constrained rule of law, and the openness of a place without boundaries.  Within those two extremes, we are given the Torah, the holiday of Shavuot.

Judaism brings us two worlds that we walk in.  Certainly, there are commandments, rules, traditions, and rituals that create structure and security for us and for future generations.  At the same time, Judaism is a place of unlimited spiritual exploration and infinite expressions of thought and opinions.  These two realities live side by side as the books of Leviticus and Bamidbar sit side by side.  We need them both.

In today’s world, we can often feel the urge to seek black and white realities.  When things get confusing, it’s natural to want defined lines.  In recent years, we’ve seen communities gravitate to the far right, or the far left, looking for the set definitions that they feel can bring structure and security to the confusion they feel.   But Shavuot vividly reminds us that we accepted a Torah which brought us two realities to keep us moving between defined structures and spiritual freedom.  It’s part of why we celebrate.

I’d like to wish everyone a sweet and peaceful Shabbat –our Jewish time to regroup, rest, and reinvigorate.

May we all enjoy celebrating the holiday of Shavuot in good health with our family and friends.

Shabbat shalom and chag sameach,