Monday, May 19, 2014

Everything in its Place?!

Parshat Bamidbar
Bamidbar 1:1 – 4:20
24 Iyar 5774 / May 23 – 24, 2014

Everything in its Place?!
by Zvi Bellin, MHHQ
It is not easy roaming through the desert, especially with such a large group of people. You are susceptible to hunger, to spreading disease, and to attack. And added to this, the Israelites have a pretty serious mission. They have to transport these mystical tablets inscribed with God’s law through the desert to an only envisioned homeland. There is a lot riding on their survival.

The book of Bamidbar shares a strategy for their survival. Each tribe had a specific role and place in the encampment. The East was protected by Yehudah, Issaschar, and Zevulun. The West was covered by Ephraim, Menasheh, and Binyamin. The South was held by Reuven, Shimon, and Gad. And to the North, the tribes of Dan, Asher, and Naftali secured the nation’s safety. (Game of Thrones anyone??) And in the heart of the camp were the Priests and Levites securing the safety of the Ark and Tablets, and all the other instruments of holy work.

This past weekend, at the Moishe House Shavuot Learning Retreat, the participants learned that the holiday of Shavuot is a reminder that every Jewish person has a place in a Torah-based community. No matter your gender, sexual orientation, race, denomination, or conversion status, according to Torah-lore (midrash) YOU were present at Mount Sinai when the Torah was given.  And so YOU, with your unique Jewish identity, is extremely important to the complete narrative of the Jewish people.

It could be so wonderful if, like the Israelites in the desert, we were given a clear role and placement in this community. But we all know that life comes with doubt. And sometimes we can feel so estranged from the surrounding Jewish community. We might disagree with the majority stance on Israel. We might have been told that we cannot love who we love. We might have been barred from leadership roles in our synagogue. We might feel whole-heartedly that Judaism should not exclude our non-Jewish friends and family members. It can be really hard to feel a part of a system that feels so foreign or even harmful.

At these times, I remind myself that Yisrael comes from the root to wrestle. Jacob was renamed Yisrael because he wrestled with God. And in our modern time, Israel, has been translated as the God Wrestlers (by Rabbi Arthur Waskow). And so, sometimes STURGGLE is the role that we play in our Jewish community. We grab hold of the fringes of our faith and tug with all our might to stretch its values to include an even greater expression of truth.
As we head into Shavuot, the holiday where we renew our commitment to greater revelation, I want to offer all of us a blessing that we can feel a part of the Jewish story as a framework that gives our life greater collective meaning. I wish you a healthy balance between certainty and doubt.     

Many blessings!


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