Once again, the presence and relevance of the text is fascinating. This week we begin the Book of Numbers. Our first portion is B’midbar from Numbers 1, and it is placed in the “wilderness”. Sometimes this is translated as desert, but it is the symbolic representation of our own individual life journey. The “Wilderness experience” is the key transformational symbol for the development of the Isrealites and stands the test of time for each of us for we each are on our own journey, seeking a “promised land”! This year, as we experience another week of sheltering in place, we can relate, in many ways, to this idea of the “wilderness”, our own sense of being b’midbar.
The Wilderness experience is a key religious symbol. How often in our tradition, and others, have leaders gone to isolation,, to be alone, to reveive a “call”, to encounter God? Often prople associate this wilderness motif with despair or helplessness, of being cut off from the world and self. Yet, what is also present, is a profound opportunity for self growth and renewal. We may be beginning to see, in some small way, people living through the isolation of the pandemic not retreating into self , but actually using the time to expand the sense of self. This “spiritual wilderness” of daily life; obligations, time, appointments and our “to do” lists–the “noise” of daily life; all of a sudden has been quieted. In these moments some have begun to “hear” the life that we so often block out. Have we begun to “see” the world around us in a different light? Have we begun to take the time to appreciate a sunrise or sunset, nature or the “miracles” of our own body that we so often take for granted?
Indeed, what some are experiencing is a new sense of gratitude, a sense that , for many that I have spoken to, is being translated into a renewed sense of a desire to share what blessings we now appreciate with those who have less. Can there be something good that emerges from this isolation? There may be if we allow our souls to be open to the possibility that we can use this time to re-vision our own life, our own purpose and how to share the blessings we have with those in our community that lack some of those blessings. Perhaps, as this isolation gradually ends, and we emerge into our next chapters, we will carry with us a renewed appreciation for the small miracles of daily life and see, in these moments, a unique opportunity to celebrate our relationships, our possibilities and our life. The “Wilderness” of our own souls call us…how will we answer?
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.