Basking in Blessings
BAMIDBAR: NUMBERS 1:1 - 4:20
19 May 2018 / 29 Iyar 5778
In this Torah portion, God tells Moses to conduct a census of all the Israelite men over the age of 20. Moses takes up a second census to count all of the Levite men. God gives specific instructions to the Levites about their roles in the Tent of Meeting.
This past weekend, I had the honor of being the officiant in two weddings. On Sunday afternoon, I stood under the chuppah with Heather and Oliver, and shared these words of Torah with them and with their community.
Remember: Shavuot is this weekend - starting Saturday night. See you at Sinai!
This week’s Torah portion opens the fourth of the five books in the Bible. It narrates the experience of the Israelites negotiating their round-about way through the wilderness, and it has two names: Numbers in English and B’midbar – in the wilderness – in Hebrew. Each name gives the story of this book, and this parsha – this Torah portion – a different frame. “Numbers” was chosen because the first verses are a census, a counting of people, a move to stability and order. This counting exemplifies human action and organization, the need for protection and security. The Hebrew name for the book, B’midbar – wilderness – speaks of an untamed place. A place of transformation, growth, and opportunity. And then, at the end of this Torah portion, there is another counting, but this time it’s a spiritual assessment that asks how this number of people is going to travel together through this wilderness – how will they bring the blessings they’ve received into the new life they are making.
I understand that in Germany, this book of the bible is mostly known simply as the 4th book of Moses, framing this part of the story within the context of the larger whole.
Heather and Oliver, you have decided that you want to create a Jewish home and raise a Jewish family while also honoring and holding space for Oliver’s heritage. You want to build your own home. Literally! You want the children you long for to grow up speaking German as much as possible. You want to travel to Israel together. Like your ketubah, your wedding contract, and your wedding, your marriage will be multi-lingual. One of the gifts of multiple languages is how each can offer a fresh way to see something we thought we knew. A fresh perspective.
Numbers. B’midbar – in the wilderness. These two different names are more than linguistic choices. They also represent worldview and perspective. One focuses on bringing order and organization to the unknown, and the other accepts and even embraces the reality of that unknown wild place. They are both right. And more than that, they are more because they are together. Through the counting we can see the wilderness differently. It’s a place we can plan for, a place we can make a life in. Through accepting the wildness of the wilderness we can see the counting differently. Plan, yes, but then also embrace the unknown – it is a place of transformation, growth, and opportunity. What’s more, the Israelites don’t seek to tame the wilderness. Their goal is to bring order among themselves so that they are prepared to be in a wild place.
In the partnership of marriage, we learn from each other and become more together not because we have the same perspective, not because we see everything the same way, but because our different perspectives and ways of seeing enrich one another. In every marriage, we should strive to learn to speak one another’s languages. German and English, sure. But also the languages that don't come with words. For the sake of the world, and our own wellbeing, we really should also accept that the wilderness isn’t there to be tamed, and that for all our planning the future will always ultimately be unknown.
Heather and Oliver, in the journey of your relationship so far, as challenging as the distance has sometimes been, you have had the blessing of getting to really learn how to communicate with one another, and you have also learned how to be emotionally and spiritually connected even when you are physically far apart. You have devoted yourselves to learning one another’s languages, and as you prepared for your wedding, you demonstrated your commitment to continuing to deeply listen to each other and to really hear and value one another. You make plans, and you work toward goals, and you are remarkably flexible and with a shrug – and most of the time a smile - you adjust as you need to when things don’t work out quite the way you had predicted or hoped, and you keep going.
At the end of this Torah portion when the Israelites engaged in that spiritual accounting, they asked how they would bring the blessings they had received into their new life in the wilderness.
Organization and planning. A place of growth and transition and opportunity. A story in context.
For months as you prepared for your marriage you have been thinking about how you will bring the blessings you have received into your married life. You have planned, you have embraced opportunities, and you have thought about the story you hope your life together will tell. You have done that work, and tomorrow you will continue that work.
Standing here today . . . just bask in the blessings.
Each of you, and you together, are a blessing for all of us.
May your life together be more wonderful than any plans you could have imagined, may you grow together, may many fabulous opportunities come your way, and may the story of your lives be long and happy.