This week’s Torah portion is Bamidbar. It’s the first portion of the Book of Numbers. Bamidbar means “wilderness.” For 40 years, the Israelites wandered both literally and metaphorically through the wilderness of Egypt on their way to Canaan. Today we do the same.
We wander through the wilderness of uncertainty. We wander through the wilderness of fear. We wander through the wilderness of powerlessness. We wander through the wildernesses of baseless hatred and selfishness. We wander through the wildernesses of inequality and racism. The challenge of the wilderness is that we have an opportunity, as human beings, to be our best, to rise to our highest selves, only when we are confronted with the worst– with the barrenness of the soul, with the lawlessness and senseless and lack of protection and human decency that is the wilderness.
The Hebrew word Bamidbar also connects to the Hebrew word for “word.” Bamidbar could be translated as, “In the word.” The wilderness is a place where, through adversity, we find our voice. It is a place where we will the void with meaningful speech and action. The ancient Israelites received Torah, the word of God, in the wilderness. So too can we find and create meaning in the wilderness of today.