The Torah portion for today is such a challenging reading as well as a telling one for us as individuals as well as congregations and as an association. The book of numbers tells the story of the Jewish people wandering in the wilderness after achieving their freedom from slavery in Egypt. They were searching for their homeland continuing the story from the book of exodus. Throughout the journey in the wilderness there is a constant what the Bible calls murmuring, we might say complaining. There was an insurrection that was violently put down, and at one point even Aaron and Miriam challenged Moses for leadership. Even after Moses learned to delegate authority, people struggled with any form of hardship, even proposing going back to Egypt. It is natural to fear the unknown, Some people prefer the harshness but certain existence of how things were, but we if we are to be who we were meant to be we have risk a little uncertainty.
Different then the book of exodus when God was very forgiving to the people when they murmured, In Numbers God was willing to wipe out the people due to their complaining . The only thing that saved the people from God’s wrath was Moses holding fast to the hope for the people. But even Moses (just like ministers occasionally) gets frustrated, with the people complaining and strikes the rock instead of talking to it to provide the water to save the people. For this Moses is banned from ever entering Israel. Lets give Moses a break ok, He was working 70 hours a week, preaching and teaching and probably even creating a newsletter on tablets for the people. Now we can look at this story as how a large group of nomadic people learned to govern themselves, that is probably some truth to that.
But I see a beautiful story of overcoming insurmountable obstacles it is the story of sticking with it, it is the story of despite doubt and hardship continuing to move forward.
I have to admit, growing up Jewish in the Bronx in NYC, I did not have a lot of experience with the physical wilderness. I hate to perpetuate stereotypes but My idea of wilderness was going to the Bronx Zoo. Now my wife Jan on the other hand grew up camping her entire life. So after we dated a while she suggested we try camping for a weekend. And being the willing suitor that I was I agreed. After we had procured all the proper equipment for tent and fire building and the mandatory marshmallows, we headed out on the highway to unknown territory.
Then it started to rain….and then it started to rain harder. I’m talking Noah and the flood kind of rain.
I saw this as a sign of impending doom,
but I hung in there. We finally make it to the campground and check in and as I get back into the car to drive to the campsite, mind you it still pouring down rain, our car is stuck in the mud.
But I remained calm, and I still hung in there.
I said to myself, I’ve seen something like this on tv.
I can handle this. That will impress her. So I start rocking the car back and forth and then I tell jan to hit the gas and you guessed it, as the car lurches out of the mud all the mud just flies all over me head to toe. At that point, I swallowed whatever little pride I had left and said we are going to a hotel tonight. But I washed myself off, hung in there and came back the next day and put up the tent in the rain and Jan created a fire in the rain which really impressed me. I spent the rest of the weekend communing with nature and had a wonderful time. Maybe not the land of milk and honey, but it was nice
Sometimes doing new things, learning new things, can be difficult or messy.
It takes us a while to figure out how things work. We often though when doing new things find a reservoir of skill and determination that we never previously knew we had. Now for many years thereafter and later on with our children, we went camping often, and things got easier over time,
but it never would have happened it I first hadn’t agreed to go along on the trip into the great unknown and if I hadn’t stuck in there, despite the setbacks, despite the rain, despite the mud.
Sometimes we just have to stick with it and believe that it will get easier and live into that future.
So the wilderness can be seen as a place we need to travel through on the way to our destination, as a test, as a place to receive revelation, as a place to find enlightenment,
The wilderness does not have to be a physical place but can also be a state of mind.
Some people do not want to leave the comfort of the status quo, but to find transformation we have to journey into the unknown Its hard, muddy work. We have to risk getting dirty and being uncomfortable. But this story of Moses and Hebrew people tells us, if we are ever to reach our destination, we need to stick together, even when we sometimes don’t agree with the direction. It may take us longer, but if we are ever going to fulfill our destiny as a religion we have to stick together, and have faith in each other.
At the end of this story, Moses, Aaron, and Miriam all die before the community reaches their destination. This message tells me that eventually old ideas and ways have to die if we are going to make room for new ideas, and new ways and new people. That is the hardest thing I think, to leave behind the skills that got us to where we are.
So I encourage you to be open to change, because another truth is the things we need to get us out of slavery, the things we need in the wilderness through the hard times, are not always the same skills we need to create something new.
May our journey bring us wisdom, may it bring us peace, may it bring us healing. I would rather die free in the wilderness with you than be a slave in and to the past. Let us go and find those who are fleeing, let us all gather and let us walk together into an uncertain future, a future where we can build the world we dream about. Let us all find our way home.