Emanuel Synagogue

“You’ll Never Walk Alone”

With our double portion this week, we conclude the book of Bamidbar, the book of Numbers, which details the wanderings of the Israelites in the desert. The naming of the two portions tells us a little about the unfolding journey of the Israelites during their 40 years in the desert. The first of the two portions is called “Mattot,” meaning “tribes.” In this section, the individual tribes are enumerated, their portions of the land allocated and two of the tribes, request permission to dwell outside the Promised Land. Amy Scheinerman says that most of the journey in the wilderness is the story of Moses’ struggle to keep this Israelites together, to create a community out of a disparate bunch of former slaves. As much as Moses has tried, it has been an uphill battle to bring the groups together, to create community, to show the value of joining together rather than walking the journey alone. Hence the name of the portion, Mattot, “tribes,” reminding us of the individual interests, the small groups within the whole. 

But then we arrive at the second portion read this week, “Masei.” The Torah reads: “eleh masei b’nei Yisrael” “these are the journeys of the Children of Israel.” We hear in this enumeration the echoes that the individual tribes have become a unit, they are now, B’nei Yisrael, The People of Israel; after their journey, they have finally become a community. No longer ‘the tribes,’ they are now one, united; working together, leaning on one another, supporting, nurturing and caring for each other. Through the desert wanderings they have learned that community is important, that being on a shared journey is significant and can bring richness to life which did not exist before. 

In the portion we are commanded to set aside 6 cities of refuge. The rabbis note that 6 is the number of words in the shema, the prayer which speaks of the unity of God, and the oneness of creation and humanity. This suggests that when we connect with the unity that is God, we can draw from that well of strength to join together as one community. It is the embracing of the oneness of the Divine and the oneness of humanity which will provide an antidote to the loneliness and isolation of our world and connect us to something greater than ourselves. 

These past weeks, we have needed to feel part of community more than ever. So many of us craved the connection, the comfort that comes from knowing we are part of a community of souls, that we are linked to people who care for us, who reach out and support us. And in these times, we are called upon to be that for each other. For us all to try and notice, to “shema” listen to the pain and struggles of those around us, to hear and respond from within our hearts, veahavta, to love with all our mind, strength and being, so that our community will always be a place of unity, blessing and harmony. 

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Jacqueline Ninio