Bamidbar. In the wilderness. We are at the beginning of the book of Bamidbar, starting with the first parasha, of the same name. We’re beginning the quintessential journey, the defining environment of our entire history. We are in the middle of nowhere . A lot happened in the wilderness. A bunch of nobodies, we learned to be somebodies. In the middle of nowhere, we learned to focus on a place to go, yet we weren’t ever to be confined and defined only by that place. We’re still amassed at the base of the mountain, the one where an entire crowd of people each had a singular experienceBamidbar – the wilderness – we are in the place of “daber”, speaking. As with Creation in the Beginning, language was a creative force. Words created people, and later, a people.
I just experienced the power of words, words that created entire worlds in 12 minutes. I was honored to be a member of the spring cohort for ELI talks (ELI = Engagement, Literacy, Identity). They are a sort of Jewish TED talks, short bursts of creativity and passion for our community. There were 16 of us, different genders, denominations, stylesof Jewish practice, jobs, perspectives, etc. One thing brought us together: we had an idea about Jewish life that might inspire or encourage other Jews to think, explore, go deeper, go wider, just …..go.
How do the Mishkan and Solomon’s Temple provide metaphors for how we approach the working poor? How does making a cup of coffee bring new meaning to ritual and how does ritual heal? How do we manage culture and content in our community leaders? When is good, good enough? What’s the soundtrack of the Torah, and what’s the magic marriage word in Genesis? What do you call God? How does Torah make you laugh? My own talk was about finding the model for a relationship between me and my adult kids.
What struck me beyond the sheer breadth and passion each speaker had was how many of us referenced Bamidbar in one way or another. Whether it was the mountain, the leaders, the followers, and those in between, the journey, or the Tabernacle, so many of us used this foundational experience as the core of our talks. Some of us referenced Moses, the same Moses, yet took his influence in completely different directions, finding inspiration in so many aspects of his life and leadership. Some of us talked about the Mishkan, and again, took the story of its existence to different places. We touched the same kite string, and soared to many different places in the sky.
Rich is the tradition, deep is the story that inspires such varied lessons. What a blessing it is to continually drink from the unlimited Torah-well. The wilderness is a nourishing place, and it continues to be that every single day.
Our ELI talks will be online in the next couple of months; keep checking the website. The coaches, crew, production staff, everyone connected with this process were astoundingly caring and capable. We all took a journey of our own, learning and exploring personally, communally, and professionally. We all come from a place of passion. We all love this crazy community deeply yet critically. We came from our own places of wilderness, and met at the mountain to make something remarkable happen.
In Bamidbar, it will be time to leave the mountain and begin the rest of the journey. What happened there will sustain the people on the trek ahead. What happened this week in Skokie IL sends us on our way too, with new ideas, new friends and colleagues, and our shared, though personal, wild-place-experiences. In a couple of days, we’ll be meeting again at Sinai, so before we take off into the great unknown Midbar, land of words and ideas, let’s stick around a little to rejoice at the base of the mountain. See you at Sinai.