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May 22, 2020
28 Iyar 5780

Yom Yerushalayim
43rd day of the Omer
Parashat Bamidbar
Numbers 1:1 -- 4:20

Dear Friends,

This week we begin a new book of the Torah. In Hebrew the name of this book and this portion is Bamidbar, commonly translated as “in the wilderness." In English it is known as the Book of Numbers because it begins with a census. At first glance the thought of a census is mind numbingly boring. Why does it matter that we count people? Who cares? What difference does it make?

If any of you are watching the news these days, there is often a sidebar on the screen giving us numbers that refer to the pandemic and how many people have been affected and in what way. For most of us, although this gives us a sense of the enormity of the situation we are in, the sheer size of the numbers also have the capacity to allow us to lose sight of what those numbers actually represent. As a community, we know about the power of the numbers and their ability to lose meaning. When the number of those killed in the Shoah is expressed by numbers alone, we lose sight of the individuals that each of those numbers represent. The same is true in this Torah portion. It serves to teach us that it all begins with one and builds out from there.

A census asks for information beyond a simple counting of individuals. The census here is one that works to create identity within a larger community. This census counts names, tribes, and jobs. If we look closely underneath all of the numbers, there are individuals traveling across the wilderness, individuals who are members of families, and individuals who are part of tribes. There is great power in the sense of belonging to something greater than oneself.

Our strongest relationships rely on points of connection, a sense of caring, and of knowing one another. Numbers alone do not supply that kind of information.

We are currently living in the wilderness of “not knowing” -- much like our ancestors. We have no clear sense of what the future will be like and of what we are capable of doing and being. I believe with all of my heart that this Torah portion, filled with the details of the census though it is, teach us about how to be our best selves in family, in community, and in the world. Each tribe is given a position on where to march and where to set camp. When it came time to make camp, the tent of Meeting (the Mishkan) was at the center with all of the tribes arrayed around it -- the place that contained the ark within it. Each tribe had a different vantage point. We are all different (we see things differently and respond differently), yet within all of that difference we are far stronger together than we are apart, especially at this moment when we are physically distanced.

This description of the order of march comes after the story of Amalek, who preyed on the stragglers, the weakest in the line of march, and those who were unprotected. He was like a lion that picks off the youngest and oldest in a herd of antelope. What we have instead, in the order of march, is a community -- large in size, with each individual having a role to play in the creation of the whole.

So yes, we are in the wilderness right now. And now, more than ever, it is important to remember that each of you is part of a larger caring community.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Linda Shriner-Cahn

We encourage you to contact Rabbi Linda Shriner-Cahn if you are in need of pastoral care at

Sat, September 19 2020 1 Tishrei 5781