Sedra of the week: Bemidbar

Sedra of the week: Bemidbar

By Rabbi Joseph DweckSedra-of-the-week-300x208

We know today all that exists in the universe is made up of the interconnections of simple elements. Low level organisation yields high-level order. Our bodies and minds emerge from the interactions of particles.

We could, essentially, be reduced to no more than a collection of sub-atomic particles. Are we not just a gathering of chemicals? Or is there something more that emerges from the grouping? Is a Rembrandt masterpiece nothing more than colour and brush strokes? Is there no more to one of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos than a series of single notes?

Today, we are tempted more than ever to lose sight of the awesomeness and wonder of the emergent qualities of reality because of our intricate understanding of the building blocks of Creation.

When we are swept away by a beautiful symphony, energised by a masterful work of art, and ravished by love, we are experiencing something real that is expressive of an entirety that emerges from, and subsumes the constituent parts of its makeup. Yet, in this glorious scientific age of unprecedented wisdom and understanding of the natural world, comes a dangerous outrider of intellectualism that distrusts and deconstructs the human experience. We are at risk of reducing those experiences to nothing more than sound vibrations, brush strokes, and oxytocin. We have begun to trust our feelings and experiences less and our intellect and reasoning more. But even experience and intellect are not disparate, and they are meant to work in unison to create a whole human perception of reality.

The Torah cautions against this breakdown in perception at the close of the parsha. God commands that the Levi’im must not witness the dismantling of the Mishkan’s holy objects. In seeing them broken down, folded up, and packed away, one may be prone to thinking of them as nothing more than pieces of metal, and lose the sense of reverence one experiences in seeing the glory of their presentation in full form. And they shall not come to see the wrapping up of the holy [objects]. (4:20)

Breaking things down is necessary at times. But when we do, we lose an entire spectrum of life’s beauty that only manifests in the emergence of whole expressions. The Levi’im were to refrain from observing the dismantling of the Tabernacle so they wouldn’t lose, in its reduction, sensitivity to its wholesome holiness. With our ability to know the tiniest of building blocks, we must not lose recognition of the emergent splendour that comes from their unification. It is in the whole expressions of creation that the power of its Creator shines brightest.

Joseph Dweck is senior rabbi of the Spanish & Portuguese Jews’ Congregation

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