Bamidbar, literally, the wilderness. Bamidbar is the fourth book of the Torah and describes the Jewish People’s journey through the barren wilderness. It’s mostly a tragic tale. The Jewish People complain a lot, they die a lot through Divinely ordained plagues and punishments, they rebel against Moshe’s leadership and against G-d, and almost all of them die in this wilderness. 

But while we’re focusing on all these setbacks we miss the most important theme of the book. Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin (1816-1893) in his introduction to Bamidbar describes it as a book of transitions. The most important transition is how this book begins with the Jewish People not that far from Egypt and concludes with them at the banks of the Jordan. While they were complaining, rebelling, and even dying, they were also taking steps forward to their ultimate goal until they got there. 

The analogy is straightforward. We are all travelling through an uncharted wilderness with loss and setbacks at every juncture. But we’re also making progress. Not only have we transitioned to Phase 1 in many states around the country, but I’d venture to say that for all the personal setbacks, we’ve also grown tremendously. We didn’t really have a choice, did we? Existential questions that our fear, anxiety, and boredom forced us to grapple with. Multi-tasking as we ran schools, playgroups and our businesses from our living room watching our patience unravel thread by thread. Relationship issues that shelter-in-place prevented us from avoiding. 

We so often look for resolution to the spiritual challenges we face thinking that it is only when we ‘pass’ the test that we have accomplished anything. That’s a depressing outlook. Who can honestly say that they have resolved any of their inner conflicts? Perhaps the Book of Bamidbar can remind us that as we struggle, or more accurately because we struggle, we are actually moving forward, closer and closer to our goal. 

How have you grown from this pandemic? 

I know that for all my personal setbacks – and there were many – I feel like I have taken many steps closer to my Holy Land. I hope you too can look beyond the failures and appreciate the growth that you have certainly made. 

A sweet and peaceful Shabbos to you all. 

Yisrael Motzen