Unified Difference – Be-Midbar 5777

This week brought to you with special thanks to Rav Mike Feuer

It feels very easy for my postmodern pluralistic sensibilities to be frustrated with the rhetoric of parashat Bemidbar.  Why are only men counted?  Why do we define our society’s capabilities by its capacity for war?  Why are some groups raised above others and given special jobs?  My frustration feels so palpable because these seem to be the same questions the liberal world is struggling with today.  Conversations that boil down to: how do we make space for the other while maintaining and celebrating our own uniqueness?  How do I have a distinct, yet discrete truth?

Writing in the early twentieth century, Rav Abraham Isaac HaCohen Kook outlines a solution to this grand question.  He writes, “It is fitting that humanity be united into one family, and then all conflicts and bad traits which arise from the divisions of people and their borders will cease” (Orot – Lights of Israel 5:11).  In contrast to the prevailing dogmas of his time that demanded homogenization – Communism, Nazism, Humanism, etc. – Rav Kook advocates for an ecosystem model.  He continues, “But the world requires an essential refinement, an advance through which humanity integrates all the richness of the colors particular to each nation.”  

According to Rav Kook, a system can only be unified into a family when its health is defined by the diversity of its parts.  This in turn allows for particular inclusivity.  That is to say, I am me which is important, but you also need to be you in order for this thing called ‘we’ to exist and thrive.  This is the ecosystem model – where the forest blossoms because the trees are trees, the fungus is fungus, and the worms are worms.  

This is also the model of Am Israel.

Hence the passuk says, “And the children of Israel shall camp troop by troop; each man under his banner and according to his service” (Bemidbar 1:52).  God does not create every individual with the same skills, passions, or objectives. As the Prince of Egypt so wisely sings, “And the stone that makes up the very top of the mountain’s mighty face, doesn’t think it’s more important than the stone that forms the base.”  We must deeply know that, no matter one’s station or status, all of B’nai Israel have an integral and essential role to play in the creating of Am Israel.  

And so God tells Moses and Aaron, “Do not let the group of Kohathite clans be cut off from the Levites”  The Kohathite clans are charged with carrying the sacraments of the inner sanctuary.  It is easy to see that their job would be most coveted of all.  God is instructing our leaders (and don’t be fooled, we are all leaders) to take an active role in building a society where misappropriated weight of importance does not lead to jealousy and then diversion.  Only when all are valued for their unique role will our ecosystems live in balance and find peace.

I bless us all to see, feel, and treasure the full worth of our contributions.  In is so doing, I hope we will all “serve and guard” (Breishit 2:15) the beautifully fragile environment in which we live.  

Shabbat Shalom


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