Numbers 1:1 to 4:20
B’midbar – Numbers … two meaningful titles for the fourth book of Torah. Each name presents a different aspect of this text.
Again, both the English and Hebrew titles tell us a great deal about the future content.
Numbers – The parsha we read this week begins with a census of all the men. We are given a very methodical plan for the organization of the community. Like numbers and mathematics, the community seems to be very well organized.
B’midbar – In the wilderness – The Hebrew title suggests a land that is barren and lacking. The people, coming from a slave background just a little more than a year ago, are now on their own without the water, food, and the spirit needed to conquer the land to which they are destined.
Both titles describe the text we are about to read over the coming weeks. The Torah – A Women’s Commentary states that the book can actually be seen as three segments…
The book opens just 14 months after the Israelites left Egypt… just after the book of Exodus ended.
Then, the first section (Numbers chapters 1 to 10) presents the organization of the community, where the tribes are to set their tents. The text continues to present relevant laws. It also details the actions to be taken when the camp is to move from place to place. Based on this text, it appears the Israelites are ready for their journey.
The second section (Numbers chapters 11 to 25) focuses on the people. We read that there is much unhappiness with the living conditions, the leadership, and the idea of proceeding on their journey. In past years this writer has called this section “The Book of Kvetch.”
The third, and last, section (Numbers chapters 26 to 37) leaps forward 38 years to the time just before the entrance into the Promised Land. We learn about the preparations that are taken before entering Canaan, the new leadership, and the people’s improved state of mind. (Dr. Eskenazi and Rabbi Weiss, The Torah, A Women’s Commentary, p. 487)
In B’midbar/Numbers we see the Israelites grow from a slave people to a pioneer people ready to settle a new land.
Early in Exodus, I commented that the story of the Israelite people, as told in the Five Books of Moses, can be compared to the birth and growth of a child to adulthood…. The crossing of the Sea of Reeds can be likened to the people progressing through a birthing channel. The Israelites are led to Mt. Sinai like infants with all necessary provisions provided for them. Their way is carefully plotted. And they are protected by the Eternal. This can be compared to an infant.
At Sinai, the people are given an education (the laws and commandments). Now, in B’midbar/Numbers, they are still being given food and water; but, they begin to act and think for themselves. At times they are very rebellious. They are acting much like pre-teen and adolescent children. Then, toward the end of the book, the Israelites are acting like young adults, ready to start a life of their own.
But, during the growth from childhood to young adult, there are no schools or classrooms. The place of education is “In the Wilderness.” Here the Israelites are alone…. There are no other communities or peoples to shape or distract them. They learn the lessons God has given to them through Moses. They learn to love and revere the God that provides water, food, and hope…. For nearly four decades they live the laws and commandments of God. They are also shaped – through the toughness of wilderness living – to occupy the land which God has promised.
This is the story of the Israelites that we will be reading for next few weeks.