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Parashat Bamidbar (Numbers 1:1-4:20)

“The Israelites shall camp each with his standard, under the banners of their ancestral house; they shall camp around the Tent of Meeting at a distance (Numbers 2:2)

Each book of the Torah has a central theme.  Genesis is about beginnings, both of the world and God’s brit (covenant) with the Jewish people.  Exodus is about God’s revelation at Mt. Sinai.  Leviticus is about k’dusha (sanctity or holiness) and purity.

Parashat Bamidar opens the fourth book of the Torah and is about journeying.  Bamidbar means wilderness, and the book describes the Israelite’s 38 years of wandering in the desert before entering the land of C’naan.  (The English name for the book is Numbers, because it opens with and contains a series of census takings.)  Like any family trip, there is complaining.  There is also outright rebellion and betrayal.  Moses’ leadership is challenged.  Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888; a German rabbi considered the father of modern Orthodox Judaism) claims that Numbers compares the Israelites in reality to the ideal society described in Leviticus.

Numbers tells us, the Jewish people, literally and figuratively, where we’ve been.  By the end of the book, the generation that had been slaves in Egypt dies out, and a new generation is ready to enter the land. For this new generation, the revelation at Mt. Sinai is now a received tradition, not a personal experience.

Thousands of years later, the journey continues.  We know where the Jewish people have been.  The question is do we know where we, as individual Jews, want to go?  We may not have the pillar of fire and cloud of smoke that guided the Israelites through the desert, but we do have JCCs to lead the way.

Good Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom,

David

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