Over the years, I’ve grown fonder of Numbers. Called ‘Bamidbar’ or ‘in the wilderness’ in Hebrew, there is something untamed about its stories. This is the book in which the Israelites become unhinged. Complaint follows complaint, rebellion follows rebellion. It’s a brilliant study of human nature and group dynamics. In Parashat Beha’a lot’cha, we are starting to see the cracks.
In 1930 Solomon Gandz claimed that Incas and Hebrews had invented in parallel, on separate continents, a common root of all literacy: knotted cord records. Gandz’s conjecture isn’t taken seriously today. Yet neither was it foolish of Gandz to wonder how threads and knots became a way to declare truths without words – and why knotted threads convince and compel us (and the Incas) in a way that seems self-evidently powerful.
I remember that first Shabbat after my first child was born. Cradling my newborn, I had lit an extra candle for Shabbat, as per a custom to light an extra light for each child one brings into a family. Now it was time to bless him. Overwhelmed with everything that young parents confront, I now realized that I had the Shechinah dancing on my finger tips as my husband and I rested our hands on our baby’s soft head and uttered the ancient words from this week’s Torah portion.
As I was on the phone with one of my rabbinic mentors the other day debriefing the Poway shooting, I cried. I was processing my complex feelings about the current timeframe we find ourselves in, where I feel pulled between determined, militant hope and a life-sapping despair. ‘You look tired’, she said, and I knew she was right.
‘Vayidom Aharon’ – and Aaron is silent. It is strange that Moses spoke and Aaron held his tongue. After all, it was Moses who struggled with speech. It was Moses who was fearful of appearing before Pharaoh lest he could not find the words. It was Moses who was ‘heavy of tongue’. Aaron, presumably in league with Miriam, was the older sibling: the one rooting for Moses and coaching him. It was Aaron who, at crucial moments, did find the words. But not now.
Preparing to act out the exodus from Egypt, the Second Grade made pictures of the burning bush and of the 10 plagues. Their teacher added the Hebrew words, and the whole class acted out each plague, hopping for fogs and scratching their heads for lice. They turned out the lights of hoshekh (darkness).