While Exodus and Leviticus focus on laws, Numbers focuses on how these laws will be lived out, first in the wilderness and eventually in the land of Israel. It begins with urban planning required to start forming a society, including a census, zoning, and organizing the people.
The Palestinian Talmud records a debate about the formation in which the Israelites travelled (Eruvin 5:1). One rabbi explains that they moved in a box-like formation, divided by tribe, surrounding the Tent of Meeting, which embodied God’s presence among the people. The second rabbi notes that in 10:25 the tribe of Dan is described as “מאסף לכל-המחנות,” “the one who gathered from all the camps.” The commentator Chizkuni explains that “gatherers” meant that they helped anyone in the other tribes who fell behind from exhaustion. In order to be gatherers, they must have come last, so he suggests that the tribes travelled in a line, not a box.
We can look at these ideas as models for how we imagine our own communities. In the first model, there is a recognition of the centrality of God and Torah and of our responsibility to play a role in staying connected to tradition. The second model reflects a desire to ensure that everyone is cared for and no one is left behind. Although these are described as mutually exclusive models in the Talmud, our communities are strongest when we can do both at once, when we prioritize a love and care for our Judaism alongside a love and care for our neighbors.
Jessica Fisher is in her final year of rabbinical school at JTS where she is also pursuing an MA in Jewish Gender and Women's Studies.
929 is the number of chapters in the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible, the formative text of the Jewish heritage. It is also the name of a cutting-edge project dedicated to creating a global Jewish conversation anchored in the Hebrew Bible. 929 English invites Jews everywhere to read and study Tanakh, one chapter a day, Sunday through Thursday together with a website with creative readings and pluralistic interpretations, including audio and video, by a wide range of writers, artists, rabbis, educators, scholars, students and more. As an outgrowth of the web-based platform, 929 English also offers classes, pop-up lectures, events and across North America. We invite you to learn along with us and be part of our dynamic community.
To join 929's listserv for new and dynamic content each week click here