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Changing the Plan in a Holy Way

In the double portion, Matot/Mas’ei, we read how the tribes of Reuben and Gad asked Moses for permission to settle outside the Promised Land where the land was good for raising cattle. Moses is angry at their request to change direction. 

D'var Torah By: 
Finding God in a Quiet, Sacred Space
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Rebecca Einstein Schorr

In Matot, we read how the Gadites and Reubenites request to settle outsite the Promised Land in a place that is condusive to raising cattle. The noted commentator, Nehama Leibowitz, likens their request to a “dilemma between the choice of a career — personal advancement — or the fulfillment of a mission.” 

Justice and Mercy Are Jewish Love

In this week’s Torah portion, NasoYHVH reminds Moses, “Speak to the Israelites: When men or women individually commit any wrong toward a fellow human being, thus breaking faith with the Eternal, and they realize their guilt, they shall confess the wrong that they have done. They shall make restitution in the principal amount and add one-fifth to it, giving it to the one who was wronged.” (Numbers 5:6-7). The instruction to admit wrongdoing and make restitution applies to those we like and those we don't like.

D'var Torah By: 
Personalizing the Commandments Is the Beginning of Change
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Steven H. Rau

Just as we are guided to look inward at this commandment to acknowledge and make restitution to someone we have wronged, so we should look inward with every commandment in the Torah. Every directive in the Torah may be thought of in the first person — as if it were written for us. Just as at the Passover seder we recite the words, “It is because of this that God did for me when I went out from Egypt,” so, too, can each commandment be read as it were directed to each one of us individually. 

Taking a Census to Ensure Success

B’midbar opens with a commandment to take a census. It appears straightforward: as our ancestors traveled towards the Promised Land, they would have military encounters. Moses needed to know the cold, hard numbers of who was eligible to serve in the defense forces. The text goes into great detail on how to count the men who could serve.

D'var Torah By: 
What Does It Mean to Count?
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Philip N. Bazeley

In Parashat B’midbar Moses is instructed to count the whole Israelite people, but just the men of fighting age, and not those from the tribe of Levi. While we may want to explain that away by reminding ourselves that the count was just for military purposes, let us instead consider what it might have been like for those who weren’t counted. 

The Promised Land: Not So Far Off

A synagogue is, at its best, a place where each of us can feel that sense of rootedness and connectedness, a place where despite differences of age and experience; regardless of cultural background or class or sexual orientation or physical ability; whether we are "regulars" or newcomers, all of us can feel known and appreciated.

As we complete the Book of Numbers this week, we find the Israelites yearning for just such a place. Over the last eight weeks, our Torah readings have recorded the events of their 40 turbulent years in the wilderness. As we come to the last two portions of the book, Matot and Mas'ei, the Israelites are looking to come home.

D'var Torah By: 
Making Newcomers Feel Welcome, Needed, and Wanted
Davar Acher By: 
Robert E. Tornberg

I agree with Rabbi Skloot that, "A synagogue is, at its best . . . a place where each of us can feel that sense of rootedness and connectedness, a place where despite differences . . . all of us can feel known and appreciated." This resonates with my childhood memories, and I have continued to feel that way as an adult.

But, as I read those words, I became all-too-aware of childhood friends and acquaintances for whom the synagogue did not feel like a place of "rootedness and connectedness." Further, as a Jewish professional I am aware of the growing number of Jews  — the Reubenites and Gadites we might call them — who feel disaffected, disconnected, and do not see themselves as part of "the community."

Reduced to Numbers . . . Do We Count?

Were they people? Not to the Principal. Not even employees? They were more like digits, widgets, sprockets, more cogs on the command chain. (Joshua Cohen, The Book of Numbers, Oxford, 2014, p. 1.87)

Incredulous. That's how I felt, after requesting and then learning my Uber passenger rating. You see, drivers get to rate and rank you too.

"4.8! That's it?" I thought. "I've never been impolite or unfriendly. I never cancel a request after submitting one. What reason could there be for denying me a full five stars?"

Once again, here was one small example of the many ways each of us is reduced to numbers as we go about our post-modern lives.

D'var Torah By: 
Presence Is at the Heart of Community
Davar Acher By: 
Charlie Cytron Walker

Rabbi Skloot concludes, "We are all precious treasures, worthy of love and affection." This is true for us as individuals, and it is equally true when we are able to see ourselves as part of something larger than ourselves. In addition to teaching us that God loves each of us, the census in B'midbar serves another purpose. A plain reading of the text shows us that the census is not simply to count all the Israelites:

"Take a census of the whole Israelite company [of fighters] by the clans of its ancestral houses, listing the names, every male, head by head…from the age of twenty years up, all those in Israel who are able to bear arms" (Numbers 1:2-3).

Are We There Yet? The Journey from Egypt to Israel as a Metaphor for Our Lives

We now come to the end of the Book of Numbers. As this is a non-leap year, there are several portions throughout Torah that need to be paired.

D'var Torah By: 
The Significance of Forty-Two (and Other Things)
Davar Acher By: 
Kathy Barr

Forty-two, the number of places we camped in the B'midbar (the wilderness or the desert), has great significance in many aspects of our lives.

Longing to Reenter the Wilderness

I had never had a mystical experience until I entered the wilderness of Sinai about twenty years ago. At the time, I didn't know I has having a mystical experience.

D'var Torah By: 
Who Is THE Closest to God?
Davar Acher By: 
Daniel W. Bennett

On my own spiritual journey I've discovered that every person is blessed and holy, that each of us is touched with a spark of the divine.

The Sacred Compass for Our Journey

B'midbar, "Into the wilderness." Each experience along the way, each encounter on our path, helps to mold us as individuals.

D'var Torah By: 
Math Anxiety
Davar Acher By: 
Karen Winkler Weiss

If God's instructions to Moses at the beginning of Parashat B'midbar (Num. 1:1- 4:20) are my indication, it's not a wilderness out there, it's a jungle.

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