Parashat B’midbar

The portion begins with ‘in the wilderness or desert’. One year ‎after receiving the Torah at Sinai we begin to move on into the ‎next 39 years of wandering through a barren land. We had come ‎out of Egypt (a metaphor for the world’s system) and headed to ‎decision day, our meeting with G-d at Sinai, where we chose to ‎follow (or as the early responses to G-d revealed- rebel against) ‎His teachings and instructions, the Mitzvot. B’midbar opens in ‎the second year after Egypt, the Land ahead of us seemingly ‎within reach yet what should have taken a few days walk was in ‎reality (due to our refusal to enter the Land in faith) a long 39 ‎year march. Looking around us was…the wilderness, the dry ‎dusty desert of endless sand and dry stone (if you’ve been there ‎you’ll know what I mean). Wouldn’t it have been nice to come out ‎of Egypt and then to suddenly arrive in the Land with nothing in ‎between, yet the geographical reality was and is as true today ‎for us all, there is a space between leaving one and arriving in ‎the other. I believe G-d has even defined the territory of our ‎nation and its surrounds to teach us things, and this is a clear ‎case in point. In fact Rav Shaul would say many years later ‎‎‘these things were examples to us’, we should learn from them ‎not only what our people did but also what the context was too. ‎Why so? Because we may like to look back at those ancient ‎times and assure ourselves that the ‘stories’ are nice, and then ‎console ourselves that that was then, now we know better and ‎we are an improved version of humanity, sort of humanity 3.1. ‎We would not do the same things; after all, we have technology ‎and knowledge. Think again, the columns and words of the ‎Torah defy our confidence and shame our pride. Humanity is still ‎human, we Jews haven’t really morphed into some super-race ‎‎(even if our enemies think we actually do rule the world), we still ‎trip and fall in sinful situations every day. ‎

This portion falls between Pesach and Shavuot, the book-ends ‎of one season. As we think back to, and spiritually apply, the ‎four stages of redemption outlined in the Haggadah (four cups), ‎it’s clear that although we COULD have just walked the short ‎route to the Land of Promise and Inheritance and avoided the 40 ‎years march in a barren land, the reality is that we all go through ‎different stages and ‘cups’ in life. We so often live in the reality ‎of wilderness and places of barrenness. We discover that our ‎own redemption, which begins with a set point in time like our ‎deliverance from Egypt, really is just day one. Sadly we can also ‎make the same choices to walk without faith and trusting just as ‎our ancestors did, and so sadly also reap the harvest of that ‎sowing. ‎

Yet the wilderness, the barrenness is more complex than that. In ‎a strange way, although we made the decision to not enter the ‎Land quickly, condemning ourselves to a long hard walk, we find ‎that in some way the wilderness, the barren years were part of ‎G-d’s overarching plan. I think none of us would want to choose ‎this path, yet many of us walk it and have experienced it. In a ‎strange, humanly speaking illogical way, the desert in fact ‎becomes part of Israel’s survival. It was in the barren place that ‎Israel would learn the techniques of survival as individuals, ‎families, groups, community and as a nation. Not for us the likes ‎of the TV heroes who go out and ‘survive’ eating anything with a ‎pulse and degrading themselves in the process to a level barely ‎human. In fact the opposite is true for the people of G-d. We are ‎told that there are things we can’t eat (when the supply is ‎already limited), and that we are to behave with the highest ‎levels of dignity and morality, when the pressure to ‘go native’ in ‎the harshness of the wilderness is at its highest, the survival of ‎the fittest is no rule to live in the Kingdom of G-d by and certainly ‎isn’t Torah. We learn the powerful lessons of faith and trusting in ‎the wilderness, and that is why we so often experience that pain ‎and barrenness, sometimes there is no other way.‎

Rabbi Binyamin