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In Melbourne Shabbat begins Fri 15 Dec 2017 08:19 PM and ends Sat 16 Dec 2017 09:20 PM
ג' סיון ה' אלפים תשע"ב
Word of Torah for Parshat Bemidbar: This Parasha is perhaps the most idyllic in the entire Torah. The famous quote reflecting the "blessing" of the seer, Bilaam, would most appropriately describe this scene: "How goodly are your tents, Oh Jacob, your dwelling places, Oh Israel." This Parasha encapsulates a snapshot of an orderly, civilized camp in which women and children were protected inside a "cocoon" flanked by the fighting men on all fronts. The elderly and infirm were no longer exposed as in the terrible incident with Amalek. The Tabernacle with its central worship was placed with equal access to all the people. There was a census taken and everyone complied and was counted and placed in their position in the camp. The strange thing is that this whole Parasha can only be seen from afar, as in the first chapter of the book of Genesis, Beresheet, as God was creating the world from above and all was considered good. In the second chapter of Genesis, however, the lens of the reader tightens in for a close-up and everything is not so rosy in Paradise (literally). As the Parasha of Beresheet unfolds, we see humanity in a steady decline and by Chapter Six, God is ready to undo it all and start over with only one human family! Our snapshot in Parshat Bemidbar lasts longer. The entire Parasha holds out this tranquil image.
Parshat Bemidbar is immediately before Shavuot. There is a link in my mind between this idyllic scene of the Israelite camp in its pristine formation and the revelation at Sinai. It is best to go into the Yom Tov with blinders on. Why not? What is so great about dwelling on the hard, cruel truth of how low human beings can and will sink? Let that story wait for another two weeks. It is sometimes good to go back to the place when the slate was clean and the covenant with God was fresh with promise. The Torah goes on to tell the rest but we can pause briefly. There is no naiveté in the Torah. The background of the world into which the Torah was born was messy enough for the Torah to warn us of most of the ugly things that we can conjure up to do to each other. The following Parasha, Naso, for instance, talks about cases of a son who becomes abusive, drunk and disorderly and needed to be sent to boot camp, men who are suspicious of their wives keeping company with other men and needed merely to stay at home and be more attentive husbands. The message to families is: handle your domestic issues internally, using mediation and other common sense methods of treatment and intervention. If families created a public scene of their domestic problems, the law was harsh. The Torah wanted to prevent the disintegration of the snapshot of the Jewish home and community as it was in Parshat Bemidbar. God was present with the people in the camp, in their homes and very close to each soul. Each one of us today can still tap into that calm, orderly and caring place inside us. We begin our daily prayer in the synagogue with Mah Tovu. This prayer is saying that I can invite that calm in and fill up my cup internally, not expect someone outside me to fill it. With what? With joy and meaning in our lives.
With the exception of rare cases, there is no one in such a state or in such a situation that he or she cannot access any joy or meaning. There is no situation where this grace would not be of comfort. It does mean that one has to take a moment out and really do it. I think a good way to begin is to find a spot in one's home where there is order and peace. Put a flower arrangement there or something symbolic that brings joy. I have my family in a photo just near my computer as I am typing. I well up with love and joy immediately. See how long that feeling lasts. No matter what is really going on, I know that the image of my family is not just ideal, it is also sometimes and mostly real. I don't have to go to the distant past to find an instance in which our family was having a great time. I can also picture the kids being sincerely close in the future. I am not ignoring the scary things or the pressing things; I just tap into the joy and meaning and I can go on more happily.
This is also what can happen at Shule. We have a lovely service which gives form and structure to prayer and meditation and learning and surprise!-fellowship, which you would find should you increase your presence here. I have heard that some of you aren't "Shule Goers." What does a Shule Goer look like? How many times can a person come to a Shabbat service and still not count as a Shule Goer? Come a few times and we will warn you when you have hit your maximum! All kidding aside, Shule is a place where we find Parshat Bemidbar happening every week. I have my special place to sit and look at my favourite Louis Kahan window or study a different one just for a change. Spirituality just appears from everywhere.
Siddur, self learning Project
I am slowly working on the curriculum for an adult self learning, centred on Siddur Philosophy and skills. I wanted at first to create a group situation/class and it is proving too hard to assemble. Regarding Siddur, I really learned most of what I know on my own. At this point, I would like to help people appreciate what Jewish prayer can do for them and to enhance their experience and give it a chance in their lives. I am studying books from the greatest brains on the subject to create a précis for making a tiny superscript on a post-it note in a person's own siddur above each prayer. I have in mind to create a readers' dictionary of the Siddur, listing the less common vocabulary for each individual prayer as well as a workbook focussing on 10 high frequency root-words at a time. Better than an interlinear Siddur (which is great), people should learn a bank of basic Prayer vocabulary which turns out to be Jewish vocabulary! Please express interest by emailing me any time on firstname.lastname@example.org (especially if you want to partner with me or help the development in any way). Shabbat Shalom