A Walk on the Wild Side
Welcome to the Wilderness. Today we begin book #4 of Torah - onwards on the ‘Below the Bible Belt’ journey, exploring all 929 chapters of the Hebrew Bible for what’s below the surface, one daily chapter at a time. 812 chapters to go.
This book is known in Hebrew as Ba’Midbar - The Book of the Wilderness. The name comes from the first verse of this book that details the wanderings and wild events experienced by the Hebrews in the Sinai desert over the course of 38 years, on their journey to the promised land. The English title for the book is “Numbers”, based on the Latin translation, alluding to the census that takes place in the first chapters, intended to count the people, account for who’s who, and who matters more. The census lists the leaders of the 12 tribes (surprise! all males) and is focused on 603, 250 soldiers - men 20 and older - meet Moses’ militia:
וְאֵ֨ת כׇּל־הָעֵדָ֜ה הִקְהִ֗ילוּ בְּאֶחָד֙ לַחֹ֣דֶשׁ הַשֵּׁנִ֔י וַיִּתְיַֽלְד֥וּ עַל־מִשְׁפְּחֹתָ֖ם לְבֵ֣ית אֲבֹתָ֑ם בְּמִסְפַּ֣ר שֵׁמ֗וֹת מִבֶּ֨ן עֶשְׂרִ֥ים שָׁנָ֛ה וָמַ֖עְלָה לְגֻלְגְּלֹתָֽם׃
“On the first day of the second month they gathered the whole community, all those registered by the clans of their ancestral legacies, numbered, and named - all those aged twenty years and older, listed, per head.” (Ba 1:18)
The census seems to designate data that defines society in very specific, patriarchal terms: Male leaders, military service. But the difference between the Hebrew and English titles of this book actually point at the tensions already found in the text itself, and in our enduring human experience: How do we count what matters when so much in life, like wild flowers, isn’t clearly countable, quantified, prioritzed or known? What account of our journeys will eventually matter; who will be remembered, and how? Is it about the numbers, bottom line, such as how many miles traveled, dollars spent, soldiers sacrified and presidents serving that we will tell history? What about the other narratives of non-males and non-humans? Or the lesser known moments, events and narratives lived by people, each day, every person, step by step into our respective promised lands, elusive like desert sand?
In her commentary on the Torah, published as part of The Torah: A Women's Commentary (recommended companion book for those of you joining me on this journey) Rachel Haverlock, a contemporary scholar, reflects: “The contrast between the two titles reflects a tension between order and chaos, culture and nature, obedience and rebellion that characterizes the book and drives its plot...the underlying idea is that the ordering of the community—and by extension, one's life—creates the space for encounters with the Divine.”
Between the counted rows of men and the vast wilderness spaces is where we get to get lost, and found. This book perhaps offers roadmaps for inner journeys, maybe on the wilder side. Where in your life is the dance between order and chaos, sacred center and fluid fringes, detailed lists and dusty desert roads, on some wild ride leading inwards, going home?
Want to learn more, discuss your thoughts and feelings about this entry and Below the Bible Belt? Join me on Monday July 25th 2022, 1pm ET for our first hour long Zoom Study Session. Link here:
https://us06web.zoom.us/j/89433380921 Meeting ID: 894 3338 0921
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#hebrewmyth #929 #torah #bible #hiddenbible #sefaria #929english #labshul #929project #myth #belowthebiblebelt #postpatriarchy
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