This parashah begins the fourth book of the Torah. This book is unlike Leviticus, which was mainly legislative in nature. Numbers (the title is taken from the Septuagint) is more of a historical narrative, telling us what happened during the 38 years the Israelites were wandering through the desert.
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Now that I think about it, can we really say they were “wandering”? After all, God was directing their every footstep, and he certainly knew where he was taking them, so I think we should say they were traveling through the desert because in all truthfulness, they may not have known where they were going, but God did.
The parashah begins with God saying to Moses that he must take a census of the men capable of waging war, the result being 603, 550 men. Next, God tells Moses how to place the tribes around the Tabernacle and the order of marching them when they travel. God chooses the Levites as his servants and this Sedra (another term for the weekly Torah reading) ends with the responsibilities of each Levite family with regards to the movement and care of the Sanctuary.
I am stuck! What spiritual message can there be in this parashah? All we have is how many people there were and where the tribes were located. What deep, spiritual meaning can there be in this?
Well, maybe there isn’t any deep, spiritual meaning in this. After all, the Torah is a story; it tells us of God and his instructions for the way we should worship and live, but it also tells us about battles, love, rebellion, infidelity, jealousy, and murder. Gee- no wonder it’s a best seller!
Sometimes we have to accept that what we are reading now may not seem to have any message, but when combined with other parts of the Bible, there may be something we just can’t see yet.
For instance, after 38 years in the wilderness, before entering the land of Canaan Moses took the last census of the people (Numbers 30:51) and that number is 601, 504. This means that after nearly 40 years, an entire generation later, the difference between those coming out of Egypt and those entering the Land was barely a 3% change. In essence, the population size remained pretty much the same, which shows that the land to be inherited, which was originally meant for the prior generation, would still be inherited with almost no change in the distribution because there was almost no change in the number of people.
What seems insignificant in Numbers 3, after reading Numbers 30 we can see is significant and does have a message for us, which is this:
What God plans to do, he does.
Just because there may be a glitch here and there, such as the entire population of adult males refusing to enter the land God brought them to, the end result will be that God’s plan will be accomplished as he originally intended it to be.
The same type of revelation can be found regarding the Tent of Meeting and the way the tribes are encamped around it.
In Exodus 25-31, we are given the very detailed instructions for the creation of the Sanctuary, the Tent of Meeting, which relates that the most precious metals and skins were the ones closest to the Holy of Holies, and as we moved further away from the Holy of Holies, the materials became more common until we end up with brass used for the tent pegs. In other words, that which is closest to God, which is the holiest position, is that which is the rarest and most valuable.
The Levites had been separated by God from the other tribes, and as such were made holier than them, and they were the ones closest to the Sanctuary, where God had his presence. The other tribes were around the Levites, further away from the holiest place. Now that we see both these parts of the Bible together, we can see there is a message, which is this:
As we each cleanse ourselves of the common, we become holier and will be closer to God.
We will always be in one of three states of spirituality:
- Getting closer to God;
- Not moving at all; or
- Getting closer to the Enemy.
It is up to us to choose which way we go.
Wow! I guess there was something in here, after all, which brings us to today’s final lesson:
Even when it seems that what we are reading in the Bible doesn’t have any deep, spiritual message, it may be only part of the message and unrecognizable as such until we read the rest of the Bible.
This is partly what hermeneutics is about, the fact that every statement in the bible is in agreement with every other statement in the Bible. In other words, what God says here is the same thing God says there. That’s why what we are reading now, which may seem insignificant, will become significant when we match it with something else we read later.
Final thought for today: even though what we are reading in the bible may not mean much to us right now, it might mean much more when we get to something later in the Bible. In the same way, our lives may have events that seem insignificant or meaningless at the time they happen but may be very important because it is preparing us for an event that is yet to happen.
I believe God has a plan for each and every one of us, and we can’t see it until he decides we need to know what it is. That means as we are being prepared for something, we won’t know that we are being prepared for it, and that is OK. This is what faithfully living for God means. We are to expect that when something happens to us, and we don’t understand why, we trust in God that there is a purpose, a reason and that this event is not the end of it; in fact, it may be just the beginning of something greater yet to come. That could be more tsouris (troubles) or more blessings- we won’t know what it is until it is here. Just be patient, wait upon the Lord, and faithfully accept that what we can’t understand we will be made to understand if and when God deems it necessary.
Faith isn’t just believing in that which is unseen and unproven, it is living your life trusting in God and moving forward, even though you don’t know where you are going.
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This is Friday, so I wish you all Shabat Shalom, and until next time…L’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!