Shabbat Bamidbar

Shabbat Mevarchin
Rosh Hodesh Sivan next Friday

Candles, Friday 7.53pm
Havdalah, Saturday 8.49pm

The fourth book of the Torah, Bamidbar, literally means “desert.” It covers the main events of the forty year period of wandering through the desert of Sinai and the Arava into what is Jordan today before crossing over into the Land of Israel.

In mystical terms words have significance on many different levels. The most obvious example is the Hebrew root SFR which means a book SeFeR which involves reading. The same root SoFeR is a scribe, to write and again LiSFoR is to count and finally to speak is LeSaFeR. The same root applies to all different ways in which we communicate and understand each other. Only the vowels change. So that when we look at a text or an object or a person on so many different levels, superficially, emotionally, objectively, with involvement or dispassionately, with commitment or detachment. We can see them, hear them, talk and “read” their minds.

MIDBAR, wilderness, is another example of a word with multiple meanings. It has the same root as DaBeR to speak, and DaVaR an object. On the face of it a desert is empty. It is a silent zone of physical emptiness. But a scientist will be able to see amazing stories and worlds in the rocks and sands. Biologists discover the creatures and organisms that eke out a secret life in what appears to be barren lifelessness. Even silent objects can “speak” to one. The desert is a place of such silence that one can almost hear it. There is none of the constant noises and hums and rumbles and sirens that assail our ears and consciousness all the time in cities.

That is why the greatest of spiritual minds (of all religions) came alive in the desert. You need silence to be able to open your mind to God (just as you need people to be sensitive to humanity). That is why we were taken out of metropolitan Egypt and into the empty silent desert to be more receptive to a Divine message. And its why in today’s busy noisy world we need occasions to take a break and retreat into a religious atmosphere.