As a kid I remember the long road to my summer camp. As soon as the bus turned onto that dirt road, we would start to sing the camp song. “We are on the road, to anywhere, never heart ache, never care…” And we knew we had made it when we looked out the window of the bus and there, right in the center of camp, stood the main flagpole. It was the first thing that caught your eye on the way in and the last image you had of camp on your way out. This was the center of the camp. Now, think about your home. When you walk in, what is your eye immediately drawn to? A family picture? The television? A mirror or wall hanging?
This week we begin reading sefer Bamidbar, the fourth book of the Torah. Sefer Bamidbar begins with a census of the people and tells us more intimate details about the daily life of the Israelites as they camped out in the desert. Specifically in parshat Bamidbar we learn not only of the number of Israelites in the camp (603,550) but also of the main setup of the camp. Earlier in the Torah inparshat Yitro, we learn that the Israelites camped around Mount Sinai and the mountain that God had chosen was the center of their camp. In the middle of the camp is the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, where the stone tablets with the 10 Commandments are kept and where God dwells.
Placing these tablets at the center of camp meant that it was the first part of camp seen as one entered and the final object one saw when leaving. The Mishkan was the heart and soul of the camp, the central meeting spot. And the rest of the Israelites’ camp was set up based on how it related to the placement of the Mishkan.
The tablets contained the basic guidelines for living in the community. Each person understood the central rules and regulations, what their role was, and what they needed to give in order for the community to be sustained. The model put forth in our parshah teaches us that the Torah is the center of our community and also the center of our souls. This model urges us to live with a focus on Torah, on actions that bring forth a greater good.
As this Shabbat ends we will begin Shavuot, the festival where we stay up all night learning in preparation for receiving the Torah. We have the opportunity to open our hearts and receive the Torah this year as we do every year, but perhaps this year there’s more we can do to make the values of Torah the center of what we do. Think about a year in which the first thing and last thing we think about each day are the values that make our families and our community better.
ללמוד To Learn: ללמד To Teach: לשמור To Keep לעשות To Do: The Torah teaches us that as we prepare for a new adventure or new learning, we must first take stock in ourselves, a census of our values, goals and needs. Only then are we of a free mind and clear heart to move forward with the best possible outcome. Shavuot is the perfect time to renew your learning and take stock in yourself. Use this long weekend to reflect on what you hope to gain as you receive new learning.