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Bamidbar and Bat Mitzvah

06/07/2024 02:09:20 PM


Shabbat Shalom! Tonight is the 46th night of the omer - shisha v’arba’im yom, sh’haim shisha shavuot v’arba’ah la’omer. The Kabbalistic realm of this day of the omer is Netzach (persistence, eternity) within Malchut/Shekhina (sovereignty, queendom). This week’s Torah portion is Parashat Bamidbar, my Bat Mitzvah portion! 

Like all parashiyot, Bamidbar is named for the first significant word in the reading (it can’t be named after the first word, because if ever parasha that began with “vayedaber Adonai el Moshe”/ “And God Spoke to Moses” was named after the first word, we would have too many Parasha Vayedabers to keep track of). Bamidbar is specifying that it is in the wilderness that God is speaking to Moses, and so the parasha is named Bamidbar, in the wilderness. This is also the name of the book that opens with this Torah portion - Sefer Bamidbar, or The Book of Numbers. 

The book takes place, of course, in the wilderness. And, it includes a fair amount of numbers - counting up all the men of fighting age from each of the 12 tribes of Israel. To me, each parasha’s name is sort of incidental. The first meaningful word of the portion isn’t necessarily the central theme or thesis of the portion. The fact that each sefer is named for the first parasha is equally incidental. The English titles for the Biblical books tend to be more telling in my mind. Yet, in this week’s (m)Oral Torah from T’ruah, Rabbi Lana Zilberman Soloway indicates that she views the naming conventions the opposite way: “The English title zooms in,” she writes, “it is very specific. It reveals nothing but the first story of this new book, in which God asks our leaders, Moses and Aaron, to take a census of the people.” Now, setting aside for a moment that there is in fact a second census later in the book, so it’s not really just the first story, I was struck by how true her words were even though they seemed to demonstrate an inverse view of the words from how I always thought of it. 

Maybe because she also used the word “zoom”, it made me think of that picture book Zoom. I don’t think there are even any words in it, just a series of illustrations that depict increasingly zoomed out views of the same image. It begins with an indecipherable red splotch, and then the next page is a rooster head, the red splotch being the coxcomb of the rooster. Then we see the backs of two children’s heads as they look out their farmhouse window at the rooster. And so on and so forth until we are just looking at the Earth from space. Each picture is displaying ostensibly the same thing, but we are allowed to see it from multiple perspectives and it shifts dramatically how we understand what we’re looking at, just as the Book of Numbers and Sefer Bamidbar are the same book, but how we read them might shift our focus and allow each of us to see the same stories differently. Or for us to see it differently now than we may have 24 years ago, for example. 

I don’t actually remember how I understood my parasha at 12 years old. I once tried looking for my Bat Mitzvah stuff at my parents’ house, and found the old cassette tapes with my tutor chanting my Torah and haftarah portion, but I couldn’t find my “speech” or any notes or worksheets that the tutor or rabbi might have given me to help me understand the portion and write the speech. I assume, though, that I had a different grasp on the situation then as now. Twenty four years of life on earth, and especially five years of rabbinical school and eight years in the rabbinate, will do that for you. 

In my Gold Herring Omer Workbook, the teaching for tonight is about looking at the Big Picture, and the “Mindfulness in Action” recommendation for tomorrow is to find an elevated view. Maybe literally - they suggest finding a tree you can climb or a balcony to look out from or maybe go for a hike to any level of summit you can manage. Or metaphorically - if you can’t climb a tree or a mountain and don’t know where to find any balconies, they suggest taking a long-view perspective of your career, relationship, or journey over the past 7-10 years (or 24). Changing your perspective can alter your understanding of the world around you, or even just taking the time to notice how much your perspective has already changed can help you deepen your understanding of how important context and nuance is when approaching the world. 

This Shabbat, in addition to the offering from Gold Herring I just shared, I might also suggest you take some time in the wilderness (of nature or of your own mind) and count backwards from 120. This is a meditative thing I do sometimes that I can’t really explain but it makes me feel very recentered. How does being in that wilderness shift your awareness? How does the counting? Can you separate each aspect of the meditative practice? May you find Divine Majesty in the world, may you recenter your goals and endurances, may you accept differing perspectives, and may you be counted among your Tribe. Amen and Shabbat Shalom. 

Tue, July 23 2024 17 Tammuz 5784