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193http://www.beth-israel.org/blog/2014/05/RabbiLyonsBlog-05_23_2014
Rabbi Lyon's Blog - 05_23_2014
05/23/2014 07:00 AM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
May 23, 2014

 

“Bemidbar”, in the wilderness, is the name of this week’s Torah portion, and the Hebrew name of the Book of Numbers. The book begins with a census to count members of the Israelite tribes. The rest of the book recounts the journey Israelites made on their way to the Promised Land. The “wilderness” holds unique meaning when we read it to mean wandering in an unfamiliar place. Yet, it is precisely in this unfamiliar place that the Israelites are more open to signs, hints, and hopes.

                Remember the familiar fairy tale about the children who were lost in the wilderness without their parents? Hungry for any source of help, it was just then that the stranger lurking behind the gnarled tree came into view. She offered them a way to safety and they followed her. Only later did they learn what we long suspected, that she was nothing but a witch aiming to do them harm. Repeated versions of helpless struggles finally were resolved in acts of redemption in the hands of the children’s savior.

                Our Biblical book is not a fairy tale, but its epic sequences surely provided roots for subsequent stories of the lost and the found. In our story of the wilderness, the Israelites’ savior was God, ably served by Moses. First, the Israelites questioned obvious signs of God’s presence. Aaron and Miriam questioned their brother’s authority and were stricken. Moses appealed to God, and healed them. Foreign rulers tried to curse the Israelites, but they were defeated by God’s plan for the Israelites. Eventually, the Israelites found their way when they learned how to act like prophets, when they heard reports about the Land and grew hopeful about their destiny, and when they made provisions to complete their journey upon entering the Land God promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

                Our personal wilderness experiences aren’t fairy tales, but they have uncharted paths and unsavory villains, too. Pathways that we’ve never known because we haven’t dealt with sudden loss or tragedy in the family suddenly pitch us into a thick and dark wilderness. We might find villains there that appear in the form of anxiety, sleeplessness and depression. Like a fairy tale or biblical story, there are redemptive moments found in saviors we meet along the way, too. They might be able doctors, caring social workers, kind clergy, loving family and dear friends – all gifts from God. They save us from our trials and show us the way. The challenge is that the safe place we knew before we entered the wilderness is not necessarily the place to which we return when the story ends. The house might be the same but the life we live there is different now. Only fairy tales end with “happily ever after”. Biblical stories end with hope founded on faith that what follows has meaning, too. Except for moral lessons learned in fairy tales, we would do best to take our cue from biblical endings. The Israelites persevered, and though they didn’t know permanent peace, they were never without hope.

                No one likes to be lost in the wilderness. When we are in the thick of it, our goal is to save ourselves from it. We can begin by opening ourselves to signs and help. Let us always seek light to illuminate the path we seek back to life, good health, and peace.

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