The Wild Side
Verse per verse: The Weekly Storah
Verse per verse: The Weekly Storah
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This week we are crossing over into the fourth book of Moses, leaving Leviticus behind and venturing upon the Wilderness which is Sinai. The fourth book is known in English as 'Numbers' - due to the population census that happens in the first few chapters, but this book is less about bureaucracy and more about existence on the wild side of life.
The book's Hebrew name is Ba'Midbar – literally translated as 'in the wilderness' that geographical AND mythic landscape sometimes translated as 'desert' or 'wasteland'. The Hebrew meaning of the word 'midbar', somewhat lost in translation conceals dunes and expanses of deeper meanings, turning a physical location into a metaphysical truth.
A medieval Jewish collection of legends called Simon's Satchel writes:
'As the wilderness is endless – so are the teachings of Torah endless.' Thus, as many others have suggested, the very notion of engaging with a sacred text and the notion of seeking divine revelation is deeply linked to the very location of this historic revelation – the wilderness of Sinai. Why does one have to venture out to the wild in order to encounter the mystery? Perhaps it is because the emptiness of the expanses opens up a possible portal for higher, or deeper, listening. The Torah was not revealed in the Promised Land, but rather, poignantly, in the middle of nowhere. Where in your life does this principle hold true? (and we don't just mean turning off a highway to walk quietly, or turning off a cellphone to be fully present, but those are good places to start.)
The word MIDBAR originates from DBR, a primitive Semitic root meaning 'to speak;' but also and in a more destructive sense – 'to subdue' or 'disperse'. This is the same root of the word 'Commandment'-as in the 'ten commandments' and also the most popular word in the Torah – 'He spoke' as in 'God spoke to Moses'. In its warfare context the word is used to describe the annihilation of enemies, and in Modern Hebrew it is the word used to describe the fight against disease or the fumigation of bugs. Somehow the power of the word is such that it is the very root of constructing or deconstructing reality, and somehow, as our dictionary suggest, the word midbar is intimately linked with the word dabar---space becomes speech.
The fourth book of Moses describes the bulk of the wandering in Sinai, over thirty years of survival in a great wilderness, many deaths, and many miraculous moments. As we cross the threshold into this reality, on the eve of Shavuot – the holiday commemorating the revelation at Sinai, Lauviticus would like to invite us all to pause and take a deep breath of desert air. What awaits us on the wild side? Where, in our urban modern lives, is the space that beckons for sacred listening and inspirational speech? Let's take a walk on this wild side, if only safely through the weekly telling of the wanderings of our ancestors.
We begin the journey and end with a quote from a contemporary seeker of revelation:
"I am here not only to evade for a while the clamor and filth and confusion of the cultural apparatus but also to confront, immediately and directly if it's possible, the bare bones of existence, the elemental and fundamental, the bedrock which sustains us. " (From 'Desert Solitaire' by Edward Abbey)
PS - Speaking of crying out in the wilderness - Lauviticus is VERY CURIOUS - are you reading this? listening to the audio? ANYBODY OUT THERE IN THE WILDERNESS? please take a few seconds to let us know.
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