rosh chodesh

Today, we celebrate the new month and moon Sivan. The Omer count comes to completion June 11th-12 with the 50th day - Shavuot. We renew our personal and communal brit, our covenant with God, Torah, and Israel on this holiday. We also begin the fourth book of the Torah: Bamidbar-Numbers. I am blessed to have learned so much from my students over the years, especially those preparing to become Jewish adults. I share with you the perspectives of twins whose D’vrei Torah on Bamidbar, the first portion in the book of Numbers, inspired me several years ago. They gave me their permission to share their ideas and build upon them.

Erica looked at the organization of the tribes around the Mishkan as not only showing an organized community whose form filled certain functions. She further suggested that the Kohens, Levites, and Israelites surrounding the Mishkan could be understood as working like the human body. She suggested that the Mishkan at the center is like the heart, pumping blood throughout the body. The body is dependent upon it. The Kohanim could be seen as the arteries spreading the knowledge of Torah from the Mishkan like the arteries moving the blood out of the heart. The Levites could be seen as the ribs, protecting and caring for the Mishkan. The Israelites can be understood as the rest of the body parts since they all have different jobs and are all connected to the heart/Tabernacle. While they are divided into 12 tribes, they are all unique yet depend on each other to survive. I find this interpretation of the Torah portion refreshing and stimulating. It portrays the Israelite community as a vibrant, living organism, fluid with possibilities and with the idea that everyone has an essential role in this developing covenanted community. My thoughts also go to the morning prayer, Asher Yatzar, which allows us to appreciate the miracle of our bodies working with all their complex parts and interconnections.

Another important aspect of this Torah portion is the census taken of males in all the tribes except the Levites over the age of 20. It seems clear that this census was taken for military purposes as the Israelites needed to be prepared to fight as they continued their wanderings in the wilderness and when they entered the Promised Land. Many have looked at this census to determine who was counted and who wasn’t. When the United States was founded, all men were given the right to vote. Well, only white men owned property. Over the course of our history, more and more of our population gained the right and obligation to vote, notably women and people of color.

Elana explored the importance of names in the portion and of being counted in the census. We are each known by many names, labels, and identities. The composite of the shapes solidifies our identities. The Israelites were known as the children of their fathers and of their tribal identity in this portion. Elana suggests that we can learn from the genealogies and accounting by tribes how each person is essential in their own family. She wondered if women might have been counted for other purposes because, even if they could not be fighters, they could support the community in different ways, like those who could make clothes to tend to animals or teach children life lessons. This is an exciting idea. None of us likes to be forgotten or overlooked.

From the perspectives of these two students, I learned the importance of being part of the larger community and of being noticed, acknowledged, and appreciated for the unique gifts and perspectives we have to offer.