Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Bamidbar
Bamidbar – in the wilderness. We start a new book of the Torah this week. In English, it’s referred to as the “Book of Numbers.” Numbers, because counting the census of military-age men happens several times throughout the book. In Hebrew, it’s “in the wilderness.” Hebrew texts are known by the first significant word in the text. While English understandings of the Torah focus one’s attention on the census, the concept of beginning this book “in the wilderness” seems to hold greater significance than just being the book’s first significant word.
You’ve heard it, “it’s a jungle out there.” It is a jungle; wild, dangerous, and scary. However secure we are in the moment, we know that the entire world can change in five minutes. Too often, we judge our success or failure on how much we can collect and the length of the list counting our accomplishments. A catastrophic illness, devastating accident or injury, business failure, or failed relationship stops the world on a dime. What was moments before “terra firma” now feels like quicksand. The clear path to long-term security becomes opaqued by clouds of pain, doubt, and insecurity. From the security of knowing what path to walk to success, one now hides from the destructive forces hunting their next prey; we gingerly walk through the trees that arose overnight to block our way and our view.
For Biblical Israel, throughout this book, the people traversed the mountains and desert to arrive at the Jordan River. They went from the exhilaration of freedom in a new homeland back into the slavery that shackles their souls and keeps them from celebrating life. Just on the other side lay the “Land of Milk and Honey – the Promised Land.” We will read that their faith lacked the strength to move forward. We will read that the only path out of the wilderness requires the death of the enslaved soul – the soul of one raised to believe that the world lacked decency, security, opportunity, or any evidence that hope and faith brought blessings.
The wilderness can also be the realm of opportunity. In the jungle, there may not be a set path out. In the wilderness, one has the chance to wander. Yes, it can be scary and dangerous, but the inability to rely on “what has been” forces the wanderer to examine one’s life and life priorities. In the wilderness, one must intentionally seek and appreciate life’s blessings that too many simply take for granted. Perhaps how we got there was excruciatingly painful, but from that moment forward, we have the choice of how to renew and restore – perhaps in new ways if which we would never have thought to explore. However painful was what happened, we choose the direction of our next steps. In the wilderness, one must carve his/her/their own path never before traveled. No one ever said it would be easy or without pain, but it indeed can culminate in blessing. That said, we cannot ignore that even embarking on new and exciting opportunities can be scary. We have no idea whether we can navigate the new path until we begin the journey.
Many of us face life transitions – some forced upon us, some by choice, and some – just because. Some of these changes are gut-wrenching, some exhilarating – and some are both simultaneously. As was the story of our Israelite ancestors and every people and culture experiencing slavery and oppression, even freedom leads us into the unknown – the wilderness. Whether we land there for the good or the painful, Torah informs our first steps into clearing a new path. “U’v’charta b’chayim – always choose life.”
I say to those sharing that they are dying of an illness that they are not. They are living with the disease, and death will happen when it does. Choose to live every moment that you can. To those embarking on a beautiful journey, I remind them not to get lost in the exuberance – pay attention to each step along the way. Choose to experience the value of living. I admonish those having suffered a significant loss or setback to remember that each breath is sacred. With each one we take, we can choose how we seek not to get lost in what happened. We decide how to regroup and celebrate forging a path towards all that can be. Choose to live and not to exist.
Torah’s story of our journey through the wilderness will demonstrate how we seize the opportunity for growth and blessing or yield to the temptation of giving up and the death of the spirit. Unqualifiedly, Torah will teach us to use the time in the wilderness, in all its chaos and uncertainty, to choose life. This truth is Torah’s very first taught lesson. God said, “Let there be light.” God pulled light from the chaos – the darkness – the untamed wilderness. The entirety of creation came from having faced the darkness only to emerge in light.
As I will be leaving this community and its email service, please let me know if you want to continue receiving these weekly commentaries. Write me at RabbiMarcKline@gmail.com. Thank you for the years of blessings thus far. I hope we get to continue to journey together.