Numbers 8:1 – 12:16
“And it was in the second year[since leaving Egypt], in the second month on the twentieth of that month, that the Cloud lifted from the Tabernacle of Testimony. And the Children of Israel traveled on their journeys from Mount Sinai, and the Cloud came to rest in the wilderness of Paran.” (Num. 10:11-12)
The Children of Israel finally departed from their long stay at Mount Sinai. They had been encamped around Mount Sinai for almost a year. It was home. It was familiar. It was normal. But it was now time to move forward, into the unknown, with the goal of arriving in the Promised Land.
Among the many sections that comprise our Torah portion, one describes how the Israelites navigated their way through the wilderness. They were led by God’s Cloud. The Torah gives an extensive description of how this worked: “By the Mouth of God would the Israelites travel and by the Mouth of God would they encamp; all the days during which the Cloud would dwell on the Tabernacle, they would encamp.” (Num. 9:18) There follows a somewhat lengthy section that explains that the duration of encampment was unpredictable. The stop could be for a short while, or it could extend for many days or months.
The Israelites thus lived in a constant state of both dependency and uncertainty. They needed the Cloud to direct them, but they could never know when the Cloud would move on or for how long it would keep moving or for how long it would stay put. This uncertainty could potentially be unnerving. We know how much we crave more certainty today in our wondering when and how we can move forward from our pandemic-enforced encampment. We look for signs and for more information or for more guidelines or for someone else’s decisive statement. How much better it would be, we might think, if we had a clear guide, like a Cloud from God!
But even the Israelites had to live with uncertainty as they looked toward the Cloud. It was a palpable presence, but it was inscrutable and unpredictable. The Cloud would only move by the unheard Word spoken from “the Mouth of God.” Thus, the Israelites lived suspended and powerless to move on their own. Yet, on the other hand, they needed to make some decisions for themselves. They were called upon to meet certain challenges with wisdom and courage: Could they let themselves become patient instead of anxious? Could they train themselves to be ready to move at a moment’s notice while maintaining a sense of calm and an acceptance of the present moment? In short, the challenge for the Israelites – recorded for all generations to learn from – was to transform their uncertainty into faith.
Rabbi David Greenstein
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image: commercial stock image
Thank you to John Lasiter for suggesting the title and selecting an image for this Torah Sparks – Rabbi Greenstein