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Home » B'Midbar Parshah, Shavuot

B’midbar Forward Vision

Submitted by on May 13, 2007 – 4:08 am2 Comments | 2,688 views

Hair-Raising Drive

A friend of mine and his father were driving in the dead of night on a treacherous mountain road with razor-sharp curves and sheer cliff drops. His father seemed oblivious to the danger and drove along nonchalantly. When he inquired as to his father’s nonchalance, his father replied, “my diabetes has damaged my peripheral vision.”
Simply put, his father only had forward vision, he could only see what was in front of them and in front of them the road was clear. That the narrow road dropped precipitously into dangerous ravines did not perturb him. He couldn’t see the drops and took no notice of them. What he couldn’t see, didn’t worry him.

Embracing the Present

What a lesson for life. Our concern with what could have been or what might yet become serves to distract us from what already is. How many people live for their vacations? The days at work pass by with agonizing slowness; they are intended only as preparation for their next vacation. With their minds focused on last year’s memories and next year’s plans, how can they not miss this year’s blessings?
When our ancestors stood poised before Mount Sinai, G-d asked them if they would accept his Torah. They replied, “We will do an

forward vision innerstream

d we will listen.” They pledged to obey G-d’s commandments first and ask questions later. They had months to explore their options and research the deeper meaning of all available paths. Once they chose Judaism they embraced it and stopped questioning. They stopped looking back.

How did they know they had made the right decision? How did they know G-d wasn’t leading them astray? They didn’t. They jumped in with blind faith, but once they chose to jump in, they were committed. If they busied themselves with questioning everything G-d told them, they wouldn’t be free to travel the path they chose. They would always distract themselves by looking elsewhere.
The time for deliberation is before you make your decision. Once the decision is made, it is time to let it play out. If, in the end, it doesn’t resonate, you will know it better than any one else. But if it does resonate, you will be the luckiest person alive. You owe yourself that chance. (1)

Discount Seeking

I don’t enjoy shopping. I prefer to find what I need and leave the store. I know that not everyone shops that way. Many people like to compare prices in all their neighborhood stores and ensure they received the best possible deal. I often wonder if its worth the effort. They may end up paying less than I do, but, unaware of what I’m missing, I’m content with what I have.
I have friends, who stay up all night to research the best possible deal for an airline ticket. After having  made their purchase they live in dread of having missed a better deal. Even on the flight, if they discover that a seat mate paid less for his or her ticket, they are inconsolable; unable to enjoy the flight.
Is it really important to seek out information that can no longer be of help to you? You are already on the road, why do you need to know how steep the drop is? You have already made your purchase, why do you need to know how much someone else paid? You are already a Jew, why do you need to know how other religions work?
Many argue that it is important to keep an open mind. I agree that it is important, but I view it as a matter of degree. A rabbi I know, often quips, “don’t open your mind too much, lest your brain fall out.” What he really means is that if you constantly seek out kernels of truth in the paths you didn’t choose, you will neglect the kernel of truth in the path you did choose.

Exposure or Immersion

I remember a discussion I had with a Jewish man whose daughter adopted a non Jewish child and converted him to Judaism.
Conversions administered to children before the age of Bar or Bat Mitzvah are probationary. The child, upon reaching religious age of maturity, decides whether to endorse the conversion or reject it. To make an informed decision the child must be educated in the ways of Torah so the Bet Din (Jewish Court) insisted that the child be placed in a Jewish Day School.
The grandfather of the adopted child argued that the Bet Din’s insistence would prejudice the child toward Judaism. “How can my grandson choose freely, when he will only be exposed to the Jewish path,”he demanded. “He ought to be exposed to both paths so he will understand what he is rejecting.”
I replied that it doesn’t require training to discover the pleasures that await us on the street. That can be learned in a day or even an hour. Jewish children are keenly aware that  their mothers don’t shop in the non-kosher section of the supermarket and that their friends don’t go to the mall or theater on Shabbat. They are sufficiently exposed to secular culture to know what they are missing.
However, to understand that these sacrifices are privileges rather than burdens does require training. The only way to get a sense of the meaning, sanctity and divine fulfillment that Judaism offers is to immerse oneself in the experience. Mere exposure is not sufficient.
One cannot know the serenity of Shabbat without having experienced it. To experience it truly and deeply one has to observe consecutive Shabbats. Occasional Shabbat observance doesn’t convey the inner contentment that comes from conviction of and commitment to the sanctity of the day. When Shabbat is observed occasionally it feels more like a vacation than a Shabbat. The same holds true for all the tenets and practices of our faith.
I told the grandfather that his grandson’s choice will only be free if it is informed. If the child is denied opportunity to immerse himself in Judaism he will never know the beauty of Judaism. If the child is denied opportunity to immerse himself in secularism he will still discover its beauty.

In the Desert

This may be the reason G-d instructed our ancestors to reside in the desert for the first forty years after they received the Torah. Free from confusing distraction they were provided an opportunity to  immerse themselves fully in the Torah and embrace its way of life.
This may also be why our sages ordained that the Torah portion of Bamidbar, translated as, in the desert, should be chanted every year on the Shabbat before the holiday of Shavuot, the anniversary of the day the Torah was given to our people.
It is a reminder that grasping the soul of Torah requires immersion. We must silence the chatter of our minds and banish all distracting thought. We must explore the Torah with single minded devotion as we focus our attention upon the divine. This is not only the discipline that the Shavuot holiday evokes, it is also its promise.

Footnotes

  1. Don’t forget that our ancestors never pledged to not question at all. They only pledged to try Judaism out first and ask their questions later. They promised to observe the commandments because they were commanded and then seek out the inner meaning and reasons. The idea here is that we must deliberate before we make our choice, but once the choice is made, we must give our chosen path a chance to resonate. If we question every move and scrutinize every detail before we commit to it, the end result will always be a lack of commitment.
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2 Comments »

  • Anonymous says:

    Yes, the forty years were a punishment, but just the same, lets think about this.
    The spies reported as they did because they didn't want to enter Israel – they felt that it was better to remain secluded in the desert where they could commune with G-d and devote themselves exclusively to Torah. The forty year period that followed their report in effect provided them with exactly what they wanted. Albeit not them, they had died, but their vision was validated in a sense by the very punishment that was supposed to rebuke them for having this vision!
    When we consider the deeper view we realize that they were truly not ready to enter Israel and truly did need time to acclimate to the Torah through absolute immersion made possible by a stay in the desert. Still they had missed an opportunity. G-d had offered to take them into Israel as they were and G-d surely understood their dilemma. They failed to realize that G-d was offering to provide miraculously and instantaneously what a desert stay could provide over forty years.
    Once the spies turned their back on this opportunity they were no longer worthy of this miracle. As a result (which was also a punishment – but it just goes to show that punishments are direct results of our actions) the people were made to stay in the desert for forty years in order to achieve through hard work what G-d would have granted them as a gift from above.

  • Anonymous says:

    wasn't the 40 years in the desert because of the sin of the spies?

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