The Never-Ending Journey

by Arliene Botnick, May 31, 2023

Some 3200 years ago, we were lost, confused, rebellious. After an enslavement of over 400 years, we were on a journey to a new place, a new way of life. That journey would take us some 40 years and was fraught with challenges. The desert was a wilderness not only physically but spiritually. Israeli historian Nachman Ran sees the desert experience as a “time of nation building and religious development.” And, as we read B’midbar over the next month and a half, we will learn that becoming one nation, one people wasn’t a simple task.

Counting was a huge part of this experience (hence the English name of the book, “Numbers”) Who was to take on responsibility; who were to be the soldiers; who would be the guardians of the tabernacle; who was to support us financially? We were given the opportunity to be our own masters, to learn how to live, not as slaves, but as a free people in covenant with God. We not only were counted but we had to learn to count on one another.

Ritual practices are outlined- how to deal with death and disease. We are told of the commitment and the special status of the Nazirites and their vows of abstaining from alcohol, hair cutting, and not to have any contact with a corpse. There are other instructions given that we may find not compatible with fairness or justice; rules, in particular about a wife suspected of infidelity that we may find completely unacceptable.

Artifacts needed in the sanctuary are explained (the seven branched menorah). There is a lot of quetching, complaining. Moses’s union with a Cushite woman is challenged. Who has the right to be considered able to prophesize is challenged. And even Moses’ and Aaron’s leadership of the people is the essence of the Korach rebellion, a rebellion that makes us think about when is standing up against the existing leadership just and when is it unjust.

From the narrow place (Mizrayim-Egypt) we were on the journey to fullness, completeness, a wide space. Now 2023, where are we? Do we count on each other? Are there still in force discriminatory rules about women, about members of our community that are not treated as equals. Are there those in our community who do not feel responsible for financially supporting the kehilla? Are we still bitter at times, envious, challenging authority unjustly and perhaps not challenging authority when we should. Possibly we are still, ofttimes, in the B’midbar.

So, the big question! What keeps us going? Why do we, should we be keeping on track to the land (both spiritually and physically) that God directed us to go to when God commanded Abraham to ‘Lech lecha’. In Numbers 6 :24-26, Moses and Aaron are commanded to bless the people of Israel, to bless us with these words:

The Eternal bless you and protect you
The Eternal deal kindly and graciously with you
The Eternal bestow divine favour upon you and give you peace

These same words are recited Friday nights to our children. The next generation will take the lead in the journey. We will bless them as we were blessed. and they will continue to lead, to find a way for justice, fairness, honesty, kindness, compassion, respect to triumph. The next generation has our blessing and our faith that a better world is possible, that true “shalom”, completeness can be achieved. 3200 years ago, we set out and we are still on the journey. And it is a “Shalom” is a goal that can be achieved.!

Everyone, have a safe and healthy and enjoyable summer!

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