Forward into Freedom!
B’midbar (In the Desert) B’midbar/Numbers 1:1-4:20
Haftorah Reading: Hosea 1:10-2:20
Tonight there is so much to talk about. Shavuot begins tonight at sundown. It is one of the three pilgrimage holidays and comes 50 days after Passover. It is followed by Sukkot in the fall.
I would like to begin with a few words about what I consider one of the main lessons wrapped up in our Torah portion this week. How many times have you heard someone say something like, “but this is just how I am.” Maybe you have even said it yourself. There is good news for those of us who think along those lines. That statement is a false statement. We can change.
When we read this Torah portion we read of a census taken of the Israelites at G-d’s direction. In fact, there are several countings. We read of a general counting that comes to a little over 600,000 souls. Then, there is a counting of the members of the tribe of Levi and also a counting of the first born in each family.
Remember these people had been slaves of Egypt for over four hundred years. They had been treated like property of Pharaoh and names never entered into the count. However, now they were the people of G-d. He was interested in each person as a person. Each individual was important. Each person represented a world that included the descendants that would follow in generations to come. They were not just a face in a crowd but unique individuals.
So to us this is an important point. These people went from slaves to free people, people important enough to be counted. This revealed to them that they mattered. They would know their status had changed! So the next time you are tempted to say something like, “well that’s just who I am,” or “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” remember the children of Israel. They went from slavery to freedom. They were known by G-d and so are each of us. We are that new creation we have heard about. We are a child of the King. Each of us have a purpose in life, to please our Father who loved us enough to single us out and call us by name.
Yeshua stressed this in the Messianic scriptures by giving us the parable of the Good Shepherd in Luke 15:1-7. In these verses we read of a shepherd who found one of his sheep missing. He left the herd and went looking for the one lost sheep. When the lost one was found the shepherd returned rejoicing with the sheep on his shoulders. Each of us matter. Each of us has a place, a task, that no one else can fill.
As we all know the holiday of Shavuot begins tonight as the Sabbath ends. The word Shavuot means weeks. (Deut. 16:9-10) We have counted forty-nine days since Passover and tonight begins the fiftieth day and begins the holiday we will celebrate tonight.
What offering was brought to the Mishkan and later to the Temple? It was the first fruits of the wheat harvest. This holiday is called by other names in scripture. In Numbers 28:26 it is called the day of first fruits. In Exodus 23:16 it is referred to as the festival of the harvest. In Acts 2:1-4 we see this holiday being the time when G-d’s spirit fell on the worshipers in Jerusalem. For us as non-Jews, it was the time when we began our journey as the grafted in ones with the Jewish people. Sadly the holiday became known by the Greek word meaning fifty and was translated as Pentecost, thereby losing its connection to its roots.
Maybe the book of Ruth, which is always read on Shavuot, can help us grasp a more biblical role as non-Jews with our Jewish brothers and sisters. In this book we read of a young Moabite woman who left all she knew to attach herself to Naomi, her mother-in law. Naomi was returning to Israel after the death of her husband and sons. Ruth followed her to Bethlehem and supported her by going out and gleaning in the fields. In the process she met an Israelite man Boaz and later married him. Ruth was an example for all of us. She did not ask Naomi to join her. Instead, she left behind everything familiar to her, her country, her family, her past life, to follow G-d’s calling on her life. She came into her new family and served her mother-in-law. G-d chose to bring the Messiah to the world through her. May we all follow her example of obedience to our own special calling.