Bamidbar: Dancing in the wilderness

Bamidbar: Dancing in the wilderness

Glen Rock Jewish Center, Conservative

Picture dice from last night’s Yahtzee game scattered across the dining room floor and a coffee table donned with wool blankets turned into birthday party tables for dolls. Add to that piles of kids’ homework (my walls don’t have enough space for all of this artwork!), a makeshift in-home office at the kitchen table, and tomato seedlings lining my kitchen floor, soaking up the sun’s beauty but preventing me from walking from my home-office to my kitchen with ease. Did I just step on another plant? Oops. Oh well.

I recall a moment this past week when I simultaneously needed to respond to important matters at work, feed my hungry children their ninth meal or snack of the day and…who just wiped their painted hands on the wall? Music was blasting on our Alexa device and the scene was the epitome of sensory overload. I was not sure I was going to make it.

I recently enrolled myself in a musar course for rabbis to add depth and meaning to my life during this time. Each week we focus on a different middah, virtuous character trait, and try to incorporate it into our daily lives. Last week’s middah was patience. Lord knows I need that these days. The seminar was conducted by Rabbi Amy Eilberg, known as the first woman ordained in the Conservative Movement. She gave me a new perspective on what it means to be patient.

I have always thought of patience as something that helped us in a time-bound way. It helped us wait with ease or cope as we anxiously yearned for a desired outcome. But I learned patience is also about sitting with the chaos or pain around us, especially when we cannot change it or control it. Patience is a middah that we can apply not only to our time or experiences, but also to our spaces, with others and ourselves.  Patience, you see, is really about acceptance.

This week, we leave the ritualistic book of Vayikra and journey into the wilderness of Bamidbar, the book of Numbers. Whereas in previous books we were redeemed from slavery in Egypt, received the Torah from God at Sinai, experienced God at the burning bush, offered sacrifices to the Divine, in the book of Bamidbar, we just…wander.

Wandering. That’s a good word to describe where many of us are right now. We, too, feel like we are in our own wilderness these days, never sure when we will emerge. We have so many questions that we previously took for granted. When will we go back to work? When will the kids return to school? Will there be summer camp? When will I see my family again? Will I survive?

Indeed, the “big things” seem so far off. We refrain from having that special birthday party that we’ve been planning for a long time — at least in person. We cancel that big vacation. We wonder how that family wedding will look different — or if there will even be one. And we cry alone after burying our loved ones, with our friends to comfort us only through Zoom.

The journey of the Israelites teaches us about patience. Sure, it reminds us of the importance of waiting in the time-bound sense. But it also teaches us about accepting the unknown, acknowledging when things are out of our hands and bearing the chaos and pain when it seems like the entire world is on our shoulders.

Did the Israelite kvetch, complain, along the way?  You bet! Have we, too, kvetched and  will we more than likely continue to complain? Probably. After all, venting is a healthy way of channeling our patience.

But we can also re-shift our thinking. Instead of looking forward to that next big event or social gathering, what we look forward to in this wilderness are the little things: tending to our new vegetable garden, picking up that hobby that we promised ourselves we would always try, taking a daily walk, securing some bleach and toilet paper.

The wilderness is a scary place. There are so many unknowns. We have no idea when we will safely arrive to our destination, but as we wander, perhaps we can practice the patience of acceptance by just giving in and letting go.

And so, the other day when I was experiencing sensory overload, hungry kids and work deadlines with music blasting on Alexa, I set down my phone, grabbed my children’s hands and just started… dancing.

When we practice patience, even in the wilderness, no one can stop us from dancing.

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