Bamidbar. “In the desert.” That’s the name of this week’s Torah portion, and it’s also how many of us feel right now. As if we’re wandering in a confusing wasteland, where some people are having parties and going to restaurants, and some people are wearing masks and sheltering at home.
Everyone is trying to figure out what’s the right thing to do. And advice is coming at us from all directions. I read a post on Facebook that summed it up beautifully: “Help! I don’t know who I should listen to! Dr. Fauci and the CDC, or my friend from sixth grade who says he’s done a lot of research.”
But the truth is, no one really knows what’s going to happen next week, or next month, and it has us on edge.
Which I imagine is how the Children of Israel felt when they were wandering in the desert. As Rabbi Yehudah Alter of Ger (aka the Sfat Emet) wrote, “It is easier to be holy surrounded by miracles and the manifest presence of God.”
The escapees from Egypt started out being wowed by the miracles of the ten plagues and the parting of the Reed Sea, but once things quieted down, it was probably harder to believe in God, harder to remember the miracles they had only recently experienced.
So, a little less than two months after they left Egypt, 50 days to be exact, God showed them a miracle that would rock their world. God revealed Godself on Mount Sinai. The people heard lightening, saw thunder, felt the earth tremble. It must have been incredibly dramatic.
And yet, there is a midrash that says when Moses came down from the mountain with the two Tablets of the Covenant, he found the people sleeping. Because the truth is, there’s only so much drama we humans can take. Then we need to rest for a while, before the next big thing happens.
Next week is Shavuot, the holiday on which we commemorate the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai. There is a tradition of staying up all night to study Torah, in part because of the untimely nap the people took so long ago.
Shavuot is a reminder to us to remember to stay awake, to stay alert, to realize that our everyday lives are filled with everyday miracles. Yes, we are in uncharted territory right now. And yes, we don’t know when our world will change dramatically once again.
But we need to remember this: Today there are things to be grateful for. People to be grateful for. Miracles, large and small. And moments to express that gratitude.
Speaking of gratitude, I am grateful to Steve Silbert for allowing me to use his wonderful sketchnote for Torah portion BaMidbar.