God At The Center v. Caring For Others

This sheet on Numbers 10 was written by Jessica Fisher for 929 and can also be found here

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.

(כה) וְנָסַ֗ע דֶּ֚גֶל מַחֲנֵ֣ה בְנֵי־דָ֔ן מְאַסֵּ֥ף לְכׇל־הַֽמַּחֲנֹ֖ת לְצִבְאֹתָ֑ם וְעַ֨ל־צְבָא֔וֹ אֲחִיעֶ֖זֶר בֶּן־עַמִּישַׁדָּֽי׃
(25) Then, as the rear guard of all the divisions, the standard of the division of Dan would set out, troop by troop. In command of its troop was Ahiezer son of Ammishaddai;

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.

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