The “village” it takes to raise a child is much more about creating a supportive community for yourself than it is about depending on other people for help. This African proverb too is Torah.
I am the first to admit that I have a touch of OCD. I can’t stand to see things unfinished. Parenthood has only exacerbated this affliction. Before I go to bed every night I have to make sure that Shiri’s toys are all put away, which means locating every ball and puzzle piece and making sure everything is assembled and in its proper place. Laundry time creates a similar anxiety. Missing socks are simply unacceptable; every sock should be in a pair. I have a tendency towards order instead of chaos, and I have a deep desire to make sure everything is accounted for and correctly placed. And yes, I have been known to tear the house apart looking for a small colored piece of plastic.
We often know our space by the way we set it up. Well all have routines, regardless of our level of obsession in sticking to them. You keep your books in a certain order or you sleep on the same side of the bed or you have a particular way you like to set up a new phone or computer. There is a calm and peacefulness to order, about which the Torah is acutely aware. 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 in parshat 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 among the people.
Everything has its place, even in the ever-moving, nomadic camp of the Israelites. The census at the beginning of our parshah teaches that there were 603,550 Israelites in the camp. According to Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev, a Torah commentator, this is also the number of letters in the Torah. Yitzchak teaches that just as the absence of one letter renders a Torah scroll unfit for use, the loss of even one Jew prevents Israel from fulfilling its divine mission.
We all count; without any one of us, our community and our Jewish world are incomplete. Parshat Bamidbar teaches us not to count one another, but to count on one another in order to build a strong and sustaining community. Here at Neveh Shalom, whether you find your place on the finance committee or ritual committee, whether your place is teaching in our school or sitting in the pew on Shabbat, we are simply a better synagogue because your place is here with us.
“Those were the days.” We say it with a hint of nostalgia as we think back to yesteryear, remembering an especially great family vacation from childhood or the easy summer nights when the only rule was be home by dark. When we think back,it’s often with a selective memory. That perfect family vacation was probably with great moments . . . and some moments that were not quite as idyllic. We might not choose to recall that one fight,the bout of grumpiness, or a stubborn moment that briefly disturbed the peace. Instead, we let the shining moments take center stage in our memories.
This week we begin the fourth book of the Torah, Sefer Bamidbar. The Israelites are now in the desert, and the structure of their lives has been set. Army leaders are appointed to lead alongside Moses and Aaron, a census is taken of the people, and we learn that the camps are situated in a specific order, each with a flag in the center that tells us which tribe is there. The time spent in Egypt is a distant memory at this point.
As the weather continues to get warmer and the hours of daylight longer, you can sense that summer vacation is near while walking through the halls of our school. While our learning is still in full swing, there are only a few days left of school, and it is clear that the students and teachers are ready for some unstructured down time without homework, early wake ups, or major responsibilities. In our lives, we often go back and forth between needing structure, focus, and routine and needing freedom from those things. Sometimes it’s a challenge to find the balance between these two conflicting principles.
- Our “ethical covenant” teaches that an open mind and heart are the key to entering into a covenant with God and living a moral life. How can you open your mind and heart to a new experience that might feel as strange as standing in the wilderness?What do you do during the summer to keep a sense of structure and organization to your days?