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[Dvar Torah] Bamidbar

Parshah Bamidbar is the first Parsha in the Book of Bamidbar, Numbers. The name of the Parsha, "Bamidbar," literally means "in the wilderness," and introduces the setting of the Parsha. The central theme of the book of Numbers is the second stage of the Israelites’ journey, physically from Egypt to the Promised Land, mentally from slavery to freedom. This parsha and that of the following week are about the preparations for that journey, the first of which was to take a census. 

In the Sinai desert, G-d tells Moses to conduct a census of the twelve tribes of Israel. The total number of men from age 20 to 60 counted is 603,550. However, the tribe of Levi is set aside from this count.

In next week’s Parsha, Parshah Naso, The leaders of the twelve tribes of Israel each bring their offerings for the inauguration of the altar. All of these offerings given by each tribe are equal. Each tribe’s tent is equally distant from the Tabernacle. Each tribe was organized and given equal responsibilities.

So what is the significance of this census and organization? Rabbi Sacks states: “Each tribe was different, but (with the exception of the Levites) all were equal. They ate the same food, manna from heaven. They drank the same drink, water from a rock or well. None yet had lands of their own, for the desert has no owners. There was no economic or territorial conflict between them.” For a moment in time, after the sin of the golden calf, after such a long time of enslavement and disruption, this community was utopia. This ideal state of the people of Israel existed within this liminal space where they had left their past in Egypt, yet without reaching their future destination, the promised land of Israel. 

The sadness of the book of Bamidbar lies in the fact that this ideal community lasted so briefly. The serene mood of its beginning would all too soon be shattered by quarrel after quarrel, rebellion after rebellion, a series of disruptions that would cost an entire generation their chance of entering the land. Rabbi Sacks concludes that “the wilderness was not just a place; it was a state of being, a moment of solidarity, midway between enslavement in Egypt and the social inequalities that would later emerge in Israel, an ideal never to be forgotten even if never fully captured again in real space and time.”

We as students are in a similar liminal space. A space between our childhood and our futures. It is a moment in time when we are, in a sense, all equal. As students we take the same classes, eat the same food and we have the same teachers. We are in a moment of time without the stresses of the real world, in which we will spend the rest of our lives. It might not be perfect, and in the scope of our lives, it is but a fragment, but it is a utopia we should treasure and make the best of.

Peter, Grade 9