Editor’s Note: While Rabbi Address is away on vacation, Rabbi David Levin is writing the weekly D’vrei Torah. Rabbi Address returns to Torah commentary June 25.
As social beings we seek relationships as a way of making meaning. We need to connect to other people’s lives, believing we have something to contribute, and through this validating our own self. We want to count. Each of us is busy, absorbed in our own world with scarce time to think of others. We often find ourselves shunted aside, neglected or forgotten, not because of anything malicious, but because each of us become so focused on the day to day challenges, we forget to reach out and are often left feeling alone. This can be discouraging and even make us doubt our own value. This week’s Torah portion BaMidbar reminds us however, that indeed we are important.
This first chapter of the book of Numbers has the Israelites out wandering in the desert, in the Midbar. But translating the word as desert is deceptive. We picture a desert as a vast place, devoid of life, empty, and forbidding. But the desert is actually a place teeming with life, a place of overwhelming beauty, and an awesome night sky filled with countless stars. It is the place where the children descended from Israel/Jacob become the People/nation of Israel. The Children of Israel are forged in this harsh climate, and preparing to enter the Promised Land. It is a time of growing where everyone is needed to build the nation. Everyone counts.
The idea that everyone counts is so important that God instructs Moses to conduct a census. God appoints leaders of each clan to do help in this important work of accounting for everyone so the greater task of building the nation can occur. As it says in Numbers [1:19], “As the Lord commanded Moses, so did he count them in the Sinai desert.” The desert is a place of accounting, revelation and building, and revealing that each of us has a critical role to play. At this time, nothing is of greater importance.
Even the word BaMidbar speaks to our significance and meaning. The word shares the same letters as the word for speaking or speaker, Midaber. The word BaMidbar that we translate as “in the desert,” could be, “ in the speaking”, or “in the speaker.” Each person has an important contribution to make to the whole. It was true in the Sinai, also it is also true now. The desert is far more than what it might seem on the surface. The Torah portion shares that the Midbar is an extraordinary place of discovery- finding our place, finding our purpose, and finding our connection to things greater than ourselves, our family and our people. BaMidbar teaches that I am worthy of being counted- that I do count!
Each of us counts. Each of us has something worthwhile to say and something important to give. Our life experiences have created a wealth of knowledge and wisdom. We are teachers and caregivers, learning, practicing, educating, and demonstrating what it means to be human, what it means to make meaning in the lives of others and in our own lives as well. That makes each of us significant. Each of us counts.