Drash on Parashat B'midbar 2023

Drash on Parashat B'midbar   
Rabbi Beni YedidYah Wajnberg
United Hebrew Congregation, Singapore

The joy of a grain of sand

It seems no coincidence to read the portion Bamidbar having just returned from the WUPJ conference in Israel, as Jews around the world came together in community. One of the most powerful moments of Connections was to witness the gifting of Torah scrolls from congregations that no longer need them, to smaller, and often less financially resourceful or more isolated communities around the world. Freshened spiritual life is generated by this holy process that allows more worldwide Progressive Jews to grow rooted around an etz Chayim, a living tree – another name for the Torah. We might all live scattered around the world, but indeed we are all connected and responsible for one another.

Our portion, however, is less about trees as it is about the desert, the midbar. The desert carries many symbols. It represents redemption (through the Passover story), revelation (through the giving of the Torah of Sinai), and frailty (through the building of temporary dwellings, sukkot). Carl Gustav Jung, perhaps one of the greatest thinkers in the field of psychology of our time, wrote in The Red Book that the desert is a place of uncertainty and fears. It is a place that lacks both drink and purpose, where footprints disappear as often and as soon as they are formed. But, according to Jung, it can also be a place of opportunity. It allows us to ask: what are we to do once we find ourselves in our individual personal deserts of life?

This question is of deep spiritual significance. As Jung writes (p.236): “the words that oscillate between nonsense and supreme meaning are the oldest and truest.” The desert is both the overwhelming nothingness and wilderness, and the value of each individual grain of sand. That is perhaps one of the most valuable lessons we have learned, being the desert people that we Jews are: each of us, every grain of sand, has “supreme meaning” and importance. We, Progressive Jews, know that that very opportunity described by Jung, i.e. reflecting on what is our role in the world, is the cornerstone of Jewish spiritual life.

What am I to do? What is my shlichut, my sacred appointment, for this moment, for this day, for this second? Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, founder of the Jewish Renewal movement, would ask of the Universe this very question at the end of his morning prayers: “What is my sacred appointment for today?” And if you are brave enough to ask yourself, at the end of each day, such question, not one will go by without you finding an answer.

Our portion Bamidbar ends up being a call for a census of our ancestors. Because deep down we have always known that for us to establish a Jewish community, we must remember that each person matters. You matter to the Jewish community. You make us better. And we make each other wholesome by living up to the dream of our ancestors: to be meaning-making grains of sand, together in community, among the vastitude of the world around us. What will you do? What is your shlichut, your sacred appointment? May we be able and worthy of finding absolute joy in being a grain of sand. 

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