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Parshat Bamidbar

Bamidbar 1:1 – 4:20 from 14 May till 20 May

וַיְדַבֵּ֨ר יְהֹוָ֧ה אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֛ה בְּמִדְבַּ֥ר סִינַ֖י בְּאֹ֣הֶל מוֹעֵ֑ד בְּאֶחָד֩ לַחֹ֨דֶשׁ הַשֵּׁנִ֜י בַּשָּׁנָ֣ה הַשֵּׁנִ֗ית לְצֵאתָ֛ם מֵאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרַ֖יִם לֵאמֹֽר׃

On the first day of the second month, in the second year following the exodus from the land of Egypt, יהוה spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the Tent of Meeting, saying:

שְׂא֗וּ אֶת־רֹאשׁ֙ כׇּל־עֲדַ֣ת בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָ֖ם לְבֵ֣ית אֲבֹתָ֑ם בְּמִסְפַּ֣ר שֵׁמ֔וֹת כׇּל־זָכָ֖ר לְגֻלְגְּלֹתָֽם׃

Take a census of the whole Israelite company [of fighters] by the clans of its ancestral houses, listing the names, every male, head by head.[1]

One of my favorite places in this world is Ein Gedi. When I was 17 years old, I came there for the first time. The beauty of that place touched my heart deep inside. The contrasting colors of the deep blue of the sky the warm yellow of the earth and here and there the deep red of the poppies that were blooming. The peace and serenity, the splendor of the stars at night. Actually strange, because beauty is not the first thing I thought of when I knew I was going there. I was rather thinking of emptiness, ruggedness and deadness.

I was reminded of that while reading these two verses. What a difference from Genesis where G-d created a beautiful garden for men. A garden with shrubs, trees, flowers, animals, water, a perfect place for man to live. Now at the start of the fourth book, we see the opposite of this lush garden, a desert.

You can think of a desert as a land with potential yet to be developed. You can see it as the physical world we live in. This is in contrast to Gan Eden, a place full of Divine presence and a place where humans were also aware of that presence.

As mentioned, I love the desert – and don’t have much with lush gardens – which begs the question, do I love the physical world more than the spiritual world?

When you live in the desert all your life, you may not be able to adequately imagine the beauty of the spiritual world. A lush garden is too far removed from reality in the desert. But in the desert, poppies do stand out extra. You see them piece by piece and tend to count them all. “Look here there are four”, and “look here there are even six”. The poppies symbolise the spiritual world, are a reminder and a reference to Gan Eden. In the world we live in, we can experience and see pieces of Divinity.

Returning to the Bamidbar. The Jewish people were called out of Egypt, the Tabernacle was built, and now it stands in the desert. And G-d sees each of them, counts them all one by one. Feeling seen puts you in your strength, makes you strong to take on and perform your task. The people flourish in the desert, like the poppies. Ready to bring Divinity into the desert, into our physical world.

One of the tasks the Jewish people have is to teach the world the 7 Noahides Commandments. It is up to the Noahides to learn and observe them and pass them on to others.

The desert will not turn into Gan Eden in 1 day, indeed sometimes it seems like a hopeless task and we do not see the changes. But it is our job, both Jew and Noahide to have good positive thoughts, to do good deeds. It is G-d who will make a bridge between our thoughts and our deeds, and eventually the world will become a good habitable Divine place.

By Angelique Sijbolts

[1] Bamidbar 1:1-2, and Kehut Chumash, OmerApp day 36

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