Torah Portion: B’Midbar(In the Desert) Numbers 1-4
Haftorah Reading: Hosea 1:10-2:20
Tonight we begin the fourth book of the Torah. This book will take us up to the entry into the Land 40 years later. Here in our portion we see G-d getting the people ready to begin their desert journey. Before I get to my question of the week I would like to lay out a few spiritual principles that I think will speak to us.
First, the English title for this book is Numbers. Easy to understand since, it starts with a census of the people. The problem with this name is that it tends to reduce Israel to just a number. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Remember, in Torah, there is an under current of passionate love that G-d has for His people. It is easy to see the giving of the Torah as a marriage contract, a Ketubah in Hebrew. G-d gave Himself to Israel and they in turn, accepted Him by giving themselves to Him, Exodus 19:8. So we can see this as a marriage between the Father and His people.
Now back to the name of the Book. These people had just come out of Egypt, beaten down by years of hard labor and persecution. They were defeated in many ways. In Numbers 1:2 we read where G-d tells Moshe to “take the census of the people.” The words translated in English as, “take a census” could be also translated as, “lift their heads.” What picture does this clearer translation give us? A loving Father was showing the people He loved them, would care for them and they were so much more than just a number to Him. In fact, this phrase of “lift up” is used only two other times in all of Torah. It is found in Genesis 40:13, 19 when Joseph tells the wine taster and the baker of Pharaoh their fate.
Here in our Parasha G-d is telling the people that He recognizes each of them, he cares for them and will restore them in their land. They have a destiny and a hope. As I studied this week I thought of each of us including myself. Sometimes the pressures of life can cause us to lose hope and become discouraged like the people here. G-d loves us, knows us by name and cares for us. He has a plan for us, a purpose for our lives. His purpose is to allow us a glimpse of Him and His mercy and compassion towards us. He wants to lift our heads.
Here in our portion we see G-d beginning to bring order to a group of down trodden people, to give them a purpose. He even has order in the way he arranges them when they camp. Their tents were arranged by tribe and family with Him in their center. Every morning when they awoke their first sight when they went out of their tent was of Him at their center. This was a reminder that He had not left them and His glory was still shinning forth. He changed them from being just a people with no purpose to being His chosen people.
The word B’Midbar is filled with meaning. It can mean desert as it does here, it can also mean “spoke” also found in Numbers 1:1. It can also mean “word” as in the Word of G-d. So in this one word is wrapped up a world of spiritual meaning.
The desert is a place of what? There is pretty much nothing in a desert, no people, no houses, very few plants or animals. A word spoken in a desert can be heard for miles, there is nothing to hinder it. This is where G-d took His people to teach them who they were and who He was. It is also where He takes us sometimes when He wants our attention. It is a place where things or activities won’t get in our way. It is a place that is quiet with no distractions. I expect we have all been there. When we do come to the desert our task is to focus on Him and what He is saying to us. We should remember it is where He took Israel, not because He didn’t love them but precisely because He did love them.
Our ability to do G-d’s will in our life depends on us being able to hear His voice. Sometimes the best environment for this to happen is in the quiet of the desert. Matthew 4:4 tells us life is more than bread, but every word that proceeds out of the mouth of G-d. My prayer for all of us is that we hear what G-d Almighty is saying to us each day.
Now to my question of why do we do what we do each day? What motivates us? How does that differ from what motivates society as a whole? Most of what we do as a person today is motivated by our needs and how to meet them. For example, we work to have a place to live, food to eat, etc. However, if we could acquire those things without work most of us would choose not to work.
As a believer what motivates us in our spiritual walk? Is it fear of G-d? Do we think, I know sin is wrong so if I don’t want to be punished by G-d I will not sin. Is that the right motivation? I’ll give you that on some level that is ok but it is not the highest form of motivation. What would you see as the highest motivation? I believe our life should be motivated by the over riding love of G-d that we have. We do His will because we love Him and He us. We do the right thing because it is who we are. We are not expecting anything in return. We do it because of our love for our Father. That is what He looked for here in our Parasha and still looks for in us. We hear Him speak and we do His will just because of our love for Him. That is my desire for my life and my prayer for yours.