B’ha’a’lotecha (Numbers 8:1-12:16)…What Guides You?

This week’s portion is complex and varied. It spans the range from ritual (the second Passover) to the challenge of leadership (chapter 11) to the famous encounter with Aaron and Miriam and their challenge of who Moses married which resulted in Miriam’s illness and the healing prayer of “please God heal her now”; el nah r’fah na lah (12:13)

There are so many issues in this passage, however, let me return to one small item that I was discussing the other day with a regular Torah study attendee at a congregation I often teach at. The context was the sign of the cloud (anan) that served as a symbol of God’s presence. Look at 9:15-23 and the description of the cloud. Interestingly, the cloud as a visible symbol seems linked to the sound of trumpets (10:1), as if saying that God’s presence is to be known by sight and sound (how relevant now in our zoom/virtual age). As the cloud moved, so did the Israelites. What emerged from our discussion was the sumple question as to what guides each of us?

The cloud symbol in our world seems quite different than the Biblical image. There is a greater sense of despair, maybe depression, when we speak in terms of a cloud hanging  over us. To the Israelites, this cloud was a visible symbol of God’s presence. But what of us? What guides us in our lives now? Do we look for some visible sign of God to guide our steps? Have we lost a sense of wonder and mystery in life (so easy in these pandemic days) that allows us to “see” the sacred in even the simplest of things? How many of us “see” God in nature, in the compexity of the cell, or the majesty of a sunrise, or the eye of a grandchild? Maybe, even in our so-called enlightened and scientific age, we still need, in our deepest souls, a sign that there is something beyond our own self, some representation of the majesty and mystery of our own existence.

What guides each of us now in our life? Is it the same that guided us a decade or more ago? Have we leanred to follow a different “cloud” as we get older? Maybe this is a good time to ask ourself what is it that really guides us? As time becomes more valuable and its passing more noticable, has that which guides us changed? Again, as an old prayer book asks, what are we worshipping?

Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Richard F Address

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