While we have been in the desert for some time now, this is only the second week in the book of the desert. The common image of the desert, or wilderness, is of somewhere formless, without clear contours, without regularity. Yet both the first two parshas contain passages of almost rigid uniformity, each reflecting the other. B’minbar starts with the census, first painstakingly enumerating the representative of each tribe and then giving the tally, tribe by tribe, in exactly the same language twelve times (Joseph being divided, of course, into Ephraim and Manasseh, while Levi is not included, at least not for now). The tribes are then divided, again uniformly, and allocated to the east, south, west and north, with the Levites in the centre, headed at the east, by Moses and Aaron. Then we have the census of the Levites, divided neatly among Gershon, Kehoth and Merari, the sons of Levi. B’midbar ends and Naso begins with the duties of each sub-tribe.
There are other subjects in Naso, specifically purifying the camp, the suspected adulteress, the Nazirite and the beautiful priestly blessing. The parsha concludes, however, as a kind of reflection of the beginning of the previous parsha, this time enumerating the dedication offerings presented by the head of each tribe. Again, there is an exact repetition, although the order is slightly different. It does not exactly make for entertaining reading, but an important point is being made. Each tribe makes the same offering: silver bowl, silver basin filled with the best wheat and kneaded with oil, incense bowl filled with incense, bull, ram, sheep, goat, oxen, rams, more goats, more sheep – the same things in the same quantities. We learn by this that we all count, we all give, and we all respond to God’s call. And the Israelites are first taught this not while living in the relative harmony and order of a city, not even yet in a country. They learn it while living in an untamed, uncertain place to which, as passing nomads, they do not belong.
Come along this Saturday at 10:30, to pray, sing, read, learn more and to share. Adam, who will have been wandering all week with his student followers, will be home to lead us.