D’var Torah: Making our way through the wilderness

Rabbi Roxanne J.S. Shapiro

By Rabbi Roxanne J.S. Shapiro

We sometimes forget, since it has been a long trek through the [Book of] Exodus, that as we get to B’midbar, the Israelites have only been out of Egypt for a little over a year.  They are not aware that there are decades of wandering to come and that most will not make it to the Promised Land.  But they do know the challenges of living in the wilderness (midbar) for the time, and they know how scary the unknown can be.

At times, in our own lives, we can feel as if we are trekking through the wilderness.  So much is happening in our world and we may feel lost with no clear direction or may feel consumed by all that surrounds us.  This is the wilderness of our own day.

In our modern day, there are many proposed solutions to this feeling of being trapped in the wilderness. We are presented with fads of “revolutionary” exercises, special diets, and unique attire. We find proven methods of help through therapy, doctors, medications, and self-help books.  But even those which are established methods are not quick fixes.  They require much dedication and work. And in order for an individual to make it through the wilderness, they must not stand alone.

Our Torah portion this week, B’midbar, presents a clear understanding of how one may make it through the wilderness.  Although this is a literal wilderness, it is also a figurative one for the Children of Israel.  As we read of the call for a census and a listing of the tribes, we begin to understand that this may not only be for the purpose of establishing records of the numbers who could make up an army.  It may, also, be a message for the ages that an individual in the wilderness cannot make it through alone.  The human being must have a community around them.

A person in the wilderness does not always feel as if there is a community supporting him or her, but likewise, those who could and would be supporters are not always aware that that another feels trapped. From the Babylonian Talmud, Megillah 24b, we are presented with a parable: 

On a pitch-black night, a blind man was walking on a road with a torch in his hand.  When he was asked “What use is a torch to you?” he replied, “As long as the torch is in my hand, people see me and save me from pits, thorns, and briers.”

As a community, we need to travel this road together.  We need to have our eyes, ears, and hearts open to those who are in need of assistance.  We must create and sustain an environment where those who are struggling feel safe and comfortable “lighting their torch” to let the rest of us know that, we, their community, should stand in support to help guide them through the wilderness.