These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

במדבר, bamidbar

Posted on May 29, 2011 by Avi Strausberg

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i’m a bit embarrassed to say i’ve noticed an unsettling theme in my dvrei torah.  i’m drawn to the characters and the storylines in which the israelities, moshe, aharon, whomever, is called upon to do the work of God and it just seems like its too much for them.  it’s too scary, too dangerous, or just too much of a commitment.  i’m sure this tendency says worlds on my own ambivalence reconciling what i know i should do, what the moral thing to do is, and what i feel i am capable of or even wanting to do.  if i really stepped up whenever i felt a situation demanded it, i imagine much more of my work would be dedicated to the tireless service of others in less-developed countries rather than pleasantly typing away in the air-conditioned comfort of my living room.

personal confession aside, parshat bamidbar strikes me as another one of these moments when someone is asked to do a task that had it been me, i’d have graciously declined.  God instructs moshe and aharon on how to break down the camp and get the tabernacle ready for travel.  this, of course, is no easy feat as it involves moving the holiest of holies and all of its קדש קדשים (most sacred objects).  first, the cohanim, they’re the packers, must go in with cloths to bubblewrap all of the objects in dolphin skins.  once everything is ready to roll, the kohathites (specially designated segment of the levites), they’re the movers, come along with their trucks ready to bear the responsibility of actually transporting the holiest of holies.

okay, this is no ordinary moving job.  this isn’t “you break it, you buy it.”  nor, is it “don’t worry. it’s all on the company’s insurance.”  there is no company, there is no insurance.  and the owner, well, it’s God.  God warns moshe and aharon to make really sure that the kohathites don’t come along too early, because if they see the dismantling of the sanctuary, they’ll die.  yes, those are the repercussions we’re dealing with.  do you want the job?

delicate wine glass.
here’s a shoebox and a cloth.
it’s all in your hands.

may we somehow find the strength to step up when called upon and serve our communities as needed,


–and to all of you people in transition right now, good luck with your packing and your new beginnings.  and thank God it’s not the משכן (tabernacle).