Shabbat Shalom with a Heart-Healthy Dose of Torah – B’midbar
Yesterday, my wife and I spent the day texting in only Beatles song titles. It was cute, and I had to struggle to remember enough titles to make coherent (or almost coherent) messages. I marveled at just how many songs the "Fab Four" gave us. They spoke to so many themes and wrote in so many different musical genres … it is no wonder that they had and have the incredible multi-generational following that keep them in vogue. Teenagers know the Beatles. Generation "X" and "Y" folks flock to tribute shows. In the Beatles music, one may find the only place in which every generation can musically agree. They may not agree which was the "Best Album," "Best Song," "Best Movie," or "Best Beatle," but they agree that the Beatles "rock." For years, I felt disaffected by their music … or what I readily recalled of it. When Lori and I married, a dear friend, Barrie Bingham, gave us tickets to "RAIN" (an amazing tribute concert). I was excited because Lori was excited, and because there was a piece or two that I remembered enjoying. The concert was such that we were on our feet dancing and singing the entire event. Ok, I remembered. When the same show came to our new community a few months ago, I not only demanded that we get tickets, but we brought friends to share in the experience. Transformation complete … memory banks restored. Now … I am a born again Beatlemaniac.
As I sat down to open my work on the fourth book of the Torah (Numbers), I received my last text of the day from my bride. I did not get past the first verse of this week's Torah portion before getting lost in the above internal dialog and reminiscence. "God spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai." We just finished the Book of Leviticus; we already know where we are. Why does Torah need to specify that God gives Torah in the wilderness. Ok, it is crazy, but "The Word," "In My Life," and "Here, There, and Everywhere" somehow merged into Torah commentary. From Leviticus, we are taught, "You shall be holy for I God am holy." Throughout religious tradition, we remind ourselves that Israel (people of faith) are chosen … "In God's life God loves us more." Torah is given in the wilderness so that no one person or clan can claim it. In a posthumously published work ("Towards a Meaningful Life"), the late Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Schneerson argued for the universality of humanity, claiming that the Torah is the possession of the entire world. What separates us, he argued is the way in which we live its teachings. He further taught that "here, there, and everywhere" God's love is manifest. In Song of Songs (Solomon), we read of the lurid and intimate love affair between God and Israel. On Shabbat, we welcome the Sabbath Bride, as we symbolically participate in the marriage of God's grace and the spirit of humanity each week. On Yom Kippur, we affirm this teaching. Near the end of Moses' farewell address and his days on earth, he tells us that the truth (Torah) is close at hand. It is not so far from any of us that someone has to bring it to us from the heavens above or far across the seas. We each hold it close in our heart, even while each of us sees the text with differing eyes and cultural prejudices.
While giving into the musical muse, it struck me how truly timeless this Torah is, and how relevantly interconnected its teachings are with our real world lives. I am not a "Bible thumper," and I outrightly reject the notion that the Bible speaks with any one voice. Every time I open the text, though, I become more and more convinced that it does not matter which version of scripture one uses, they all teach the same thing. The violence that exists in all of our texts should shock us. The thought that we should get so caught up in our own search for power that we would be willing to kill each other to gain it should make us ill. Anyone of us who has someone we love should understand the searing pain that would deluge us if someone else ripped that person from us. The sages who passed down these traditions relied on our humanity. Pirke Avot teaches us that in a world where no one is behaving human, we must be human. One day (the Day or age of Messiah) we will figure out that the ultimate message of faith roots in love and respect. Our traditions teach this truth. Our music and literatures preach this truth. This truth reveals itself in every setting where we find people embracing. Still, though, we somehow find a way to ignore every stimulus prodding us to love, as we push ourselves to power.
God spoke to Moses in the wilderness, not in the CEO's office, not in the Pastor's study or in any one denomination of faith, and certainly not in the walls of the houses of any government. God speaks in the wilderness, amongst us, as we engage each other. "With a Little Help From My Friends," "It's time for a Revolution:" we need to "Come Together" and know "All You Need is Love." Dr. King taught us that hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do this. We also know that the experience of love cannot begin with legislation; it cannot begin with a court ruling. Rabbi Heschel taught us that this love roots in Torah and that it begins with the inter-human experience. Torah transmits in the wilderness, from person to person, and for our mutual success, we need more Torah people, not more Torah commentary or Torah books.
Rabbi Marc A. Kline