Inertia is comfortable, beginnings are difficult

Rabbi Josef Davidson serves Congregation B’nai Amoona and is a member of the St. Louis Rabbinical Association.

By Rabbi Josef A. Davidson

It has been said that beginnings are difficult, and that old aphorism holds a great deal of truth. It has also been demonstrated as a law of physics that a body at rest tends to stay at rest, while a body in motion tends to stay in motion. 

This week, we begin reading from the fourth book of the Torah known as Bemidbar, or Numbers. The context for Parshat Bemidbar, this week’s portion, is that the Israelites are still encamped at the base of the mountain in the Sinai wilderness where they encountered God in a most profound manner through the Revelation, the Giving of the Torah. They have grown comfortable in this place, secure that God is with them every moment of every day. 

However, being comfortable was not the goal of the Exodus. The goal was to return to the Promised Land and to re-establish the people on its own land using the Torah as the rules of governance. As long as the people remained at the base of Mount Sinai, they were no closer to attaining that goal. But beginnings are difficult, and bodies at rest tend to stay at rest. 

The Torah portion with which this fourth book of the Torah opens describes the organization necessary to get the people moving once again toward the goal. A census is taken, so that the Israelites realize that they are numerous enough and strong enough to tackle the challenges that a trek through the wilderness will present. 

The Ark of the Covenant has been constructed in which the tablets of the covenant have been deposited, a symbolic and portable Mount Sinai that is intended to foster a sense of safety and security that their encampment at the base of the mountain provided. God’s Presence will be with them as they travel. 

The Levites, the professional Klei Kodesh (clergy), are entrusted with its care, maintenance and assembly, will carry it in the center of the people as they, organized by tribes, march towards the Promised Land. 

Each of us can identify with the people at this crucial point in their journey. There are times of transition in everyone’s life, as the life cycle takes us on our journeys. It is tempting to remain at one or another of those resting points along the way, either out of fear of the unknown or out of a feeling of security and comfort. 

The Torah portion provides a model for reversing the static momentum, for making that difficult beginning. As did the Israelites, we can take stock of our own resources so that we can face with more confidence the challenges ahead. We can remember that we are not alone, that God’s Presence and Providence are our center. We can overcome our fear of the unknown by organizing ourselves and taking those first steps forward. 

With the Torah as our guide and center, we, too, can establish ourselves and live up to our promise.