B’midbar translates variously as” in the desert” or “in the wilderness”. The desert metaphor works well if you see the Torah as water, a parallel that I’ve read several times. The Israelites are tasked with taking a census, and the rules for encampment are spelled out very specifically. This parshah comes the week before Shavuot, the holiday that celebrates the receiving of the Torah.
We all live in wilderness, but some don’t see that. My daughter has a note up on her facebook that’s pretty revelatory. I don’t recall the exact wording, but I think her meaning goes something like this:
people who think they need psychological help don’t need it as much as the people who don’t (think they need psychological help)
People who think they have it all figured out, socieities who think they have all of the answers, talk show hosts who believe that what they believe is truth (they’d give it a capital “T”), religious leaders who tell you who and what God is; these are the people who don’t realize that they are in the wilderness.
When I quit my job recently, I entered a new and different kind of wilderness. There is no one telling me what to do every minute of my day. There is no right answer. There is no clear direction, except for the one that I choose to take. It’s really thrilling and kind of scary. What if I take the wrong path? What if I miss a connection? Who will correct me, help me, show me…
The essay I’m working on about interfaith relationships is showing me the same thing. In my interfaith family, we are in a wilderness as well. There is no one to tell us how to be our interfaith family. There are people who can tell us how to be an interfaith family the way that they are, but they can’t tell us how to do it our way. When I look around at other families, occasionally I’m a little envious. They seem to have it all figured out. We know another interfaith family that seems to do it differently than we do. The dad, who is not Jewish, always wears a kippah in synagogue. My husband does not. I know that struggles that we face, but I don’t see theirs. I just see the dad wear a kippah and presume that they have it figured out better.
They don’t. As I’ve gotten to know them better, I realize that they struggle as well, much more than we do. I like my wilderness better. My friends who are married and are both Jewish struggle in ways that my husband and I do not. Their wilderness is their own.
We all live in the wilderness, in the desert. Each of us needs to find our own answers. The Torah might provide some of those answers, if you choose to look there. I enjoy looking to the Torah for answers. The answers are all puzzles, they are not clear and concise, they are not specific. Sometimes they don’t seem to make sense, and maybe sometimes the search itself is the answer.