23 May 2017
This week’s portion, the first in the Book of Numbers, is called Bamidbar. The English title of this book comes from the census taken of the Israelites as commanded to Moses in this parasha. In Hebrew, the portion’s title means “in the wilderness,” an apt description of the spiritual and physical place in which the Jews found themselves after fleeing slavery in Egypt.
“In the wilderness” conjures up images of being lost, enduring a hostile climate and even searching for a way out. It is a humbling place, and that is precisely the point. As with every good piece of literature, the reader is brought by the skilled author to a place that presages the next event. A good Hitchcock movie would also feature that special musical score to heighten our senses and warn us that something is about to happen.
Commentators have reflected on the location of Mount Sinai as the site of the giving of the Torah. Literally “in the wilderness,” Mount Sinai is accessible from all sides. The Torah is accessible to all, and was given in the wilderness as a sign of both humility and accessibility. So too it is with each of us when we find ourselves in our own personal wildernesses at different points of our lives. Just as we feel most lonely, vulnerable and lost, we are most ready for intervention—Divine and otherwise. We should then be humbled and prepared to reach out to others.