Friday, June 10, 2016

Parashat Bamidbar, and packing up my own Tabernacle

Shabbat Shalom. This week’s Parasha is Parashat Bamidbar, mainly containing the census. The tribes are each counted, but the tribe of Levi is left out of the census. Instead of being counted as among the potential warriors of Israel (as only the men over 20 of each other tribe are counted - “everyone who goes out to the army”), the Levites are instead appointed to tending to the tabernacle. When the Israelites are about to move on, it is the job of the Levites to break down the Tabernacle. When the Israelites settle at a new campsite, the Levites set the Tabernacle back up. Rashi comments that this appointment also carries over to the job of carrying the Tabernacle while the Israelites are actively in transit.
There is something ritualistic to the way the Levites are the facilitators and logistics team for this important and holy necessity of the nomadic Children of Israel. They need the Tabernacle to be the visual representation of God’s presence among them, and they need it to be able to come with them every time they move. They need someone among their mixed multitudes to be responsible for ensuring the Tabernacle makes it safely from place to place. It seems practical that the safest way to carry it around would be to dismantle and reassemble it at each place, but it also seems that that require a lot of extra manpower, again requiring that those responsible should be dedicated, appointed, authoritative. Who better, then, than the tribe from which Moses and Aaron and all the kohanim descend?
I am staring down the barrel of my own move and contemplating what is necessary to take with me, what is holy and needs to be transported carefully. Though I can pay movers and ask family for help, it's not really the same as having Levites who are intimately familiar with my most valued personal belongings, and specifically appointed by God to help me. I have been encamped here at Temple Beth Emeth for the majority of my time here in New York, and now I am preparing to leave. In August, I will be moving to Virginia to serve as the part-time rabbi of a small Reform congregation, and I'll be using my surplus time to explore unserved Jewish communities in the DC area. Although I'm remaining in the city for the summer, I'm already starting to pack up my own Tabernacle, mostly metaphorically so far, but soon I will have to literally start packing. I'm breaking down pieces in a holy and ritualistic way, trying to ensure that all the most important things make it to the next encampment.
It has been a wonderful experience working here these past years. Thank you all for being a part of my life and my journey toward my dream rabbinate. If you ever find yourself wandering bamidbar, in the wilderness, of the Manassas or Arlington areas of Virginia, please blow a shofar to me and come visit my encampment. You will enrich my Tabernacle there, too. Shabbat shalom.

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