Numbers 1:1 – 4:20
This week we look forward not only to Shabbat, and the beginning of a new book of Torah, but also to Shavuot and confirmation. The book of Numbers describes thirty-eight years of our wanderings through the wilderness on our way to the Promised Land. Shavuot is our celebration of the moment we became a covenanted people at Sinai, a new beginning for all of the children of Israel. At confirmation, our wonderful high school students will confirm their place within our covenanted community, and their commitment to transmit Torah to future generations.
The opening verse of our portion contains a hidden gem of wisdom that brings all of this together: “And the Lord spoke unto Moses in the Wilderness of Sinai …” (Num. 1:1)
Sinai, the place where we encounter God, is in the wilderness – far removed from the bustle of familiar daily life. The Wilderness was the only place where we could receive Torah because there we were completely at the mercy of our surroundings, and our God. When we are comfortable, when we think we are in control, then we forget to room for Torah or God. Rabbi Menachem Mendl of Kotzk taught that we should consider ourselves just as bare as the Wilderness of Sinai, just as exposed and vulnerable, and thereby open ourselves to the true light of Torah.
Today we have the mixed blessing of being the most comfortable generation in the history of our people. There is nothing wrong with this, and in the covenant itself God promises abundance as a reward for faithfulness. However, given our material success we should also exercise spiritual caution. We should consciously cultivate humility, so as not to become so filled with our own selves that there is no room left for God.
Hi there! I am the senior rabbi at Temple Beth Ami in Rockville, Maryland, where I have served since 2016.
(c) copyright 2018 by Rabbi Gary Pokras