The Book of Numbers concludes with this week’s double portion. The portion contains some challenging aspects, some of which never find themselves taught very much as they raise serious concerns within modern ethics and morality. Take, for instance, the scene Numbers 31 which begins with God commanding the Israelites to seek revenge on the Midianites. This glimpse in to tribal warfare of the Biblical age is a difficult passage to study, especially when Moses becomes angry that the troops did not fully fulfill the command. ([31:15]-18).
We also read of another instance of the status of women (30) and a detailed explanation of what the boundaries of the land should be (34), a discussion which still has implications for us today. Yet, perhaps the most known aspect of this portion, and one that has taken on real meaning lately, is Numbers 35 which discusses the establishment of cities of refuge, where “a manslayer who has killed a person unintentionally may flee” ([35:11]) Tradition is filled with comments on what this meant and, surely, even a casual look at the events in today’s news will see relevance to the portion. We have cities of refuge now and the political/social/religious implications are everywhere.
Yet, I was struck with another way to look at this. The idea of refuge came to my mind as I was looking at the portion. So many people I encounter, our age group especially, speak of that place where they go at times of stress or challenge, a place that provides them with a sense of refuge. These places become a sort of sanctuary for the soul, the place where we may go to seek a sense of peace. It may be the water or the mountains, a favorite spot you may have visited, or, as one student reminded me, a meditative state of being in which “I go into myself”. The point of this is that I think the Torah may also be telling us that we all need that place, that space; that sanctuary for the soul where we can go to refresh and renew and, perhaps, seek a sense of meaning within an increasingly challenging world.
Chazak Chazak, V’nitchazeik
Rabbi Richard F Address.