May 2018, Parshat Bamidbar

Dear friends,

This week we begin reading the Book of Bamidbar and start with reading Parshat Bamidbar. I always laugh at the English name of the Book of Bamidbar, “Numbers” as it seems that the person naming it looked no further than the first chapter before deciding to name it! The Hebrew name, Bamidbar, “in the Desert” seems to provide much more scope to the extent of the stories, lessons, experiences and travels of the Jewish people recorded in the fourth book of the Torah.

It is also an extra special week as Shabbat launches into the two day Chag of Shavuot and we enjoy our wonderful dairy goodness (or lactose induced stomach aches). The Festival of Shavuot celebrates when the Jewish people were given the Torah and were united as a nation before G-d. The famous lines: “Naase Venishma” “we will do and we will listen” demonstrate the Jewish people’s eternal bond to the Torah, its Divine laws and the blueprint for life.

When the Jewish people were in the desert the Torah describes the encampment in the single tense, almost as if describing one person in a single encampment. However, when reading this week’s Parsha with all the census taken of all the tribes, it is clear that the Jewish people were numerous. The commentators seize on this singular description of the people and state that at the point when the Jewish people received the Torah they were like: “K’Ish Echad BeLev Echad,” – “Like one persons with one heart.” This description symbolises the unity that was demonstrated by the people coming together and symbolized the birth of a nation.

When looking at the many celebrations across all shules and across all Jewish denominations it is heartening to see that our people, many thousands of years later are engaged in unity in learning Torah through all its different interpretations, dimensions and facets. I know that we have a rich program on offer here at the Ark Centre this Shavuot and we are blessed to be part of a community with so much on offer.

While Bamidbar details the tribes, their numbers and seems to imply that each tribe was its own entity, Shavuot reminds us of our unity as a people. As we enter this festival, it is a good time to think about the things that bond us together as a people and build us up together as a nation. The saying is “When the going gets tough, the tough gets going”. These past few weeks in Israel have seen many highs and lows and the divisions between us as a people both religiously, politically and ideologically threaten to engulf us. So many feelings and emotions that I have felt over the past few days has left me emotional and confused.

I myself happen to be completely dismayed by the headlines and happenings in the Holy land. The Jewish people have always been resilient and have had belief in their abilities for greatness even in the face of great diversity. As we enter this auspicious time of nationhood through the celebration of the Festival of Shavuot, we resolve to continue to strengthen our unity as a people. As we stood at the foot of Mount Sinai becoming the Jewish nation we subsequently became responsible for one another.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,

Rabbi Gabi