Saturday 29th May 2021 18th Sivan 5781
Numbers 8:1-12:16; Zechariah 2:14-4:7;Matthew 14:14-21
FAITH IS NOT AN EASY JOURNEY by Michael Hillel, Netanya, Israel
From the time I left the bus, that muggy, dark evening on the 6th of August 1972, I learned the discipline of following orders . . . immediately. I should mention that the bus dropped me and the rest of the passengers in a debarkation area at the Recruit Training Depot, Parris Island, South Carolina. So, from the moment we stepped off the bus and onto the tarmac, we learned that when an order was given, we had to do everything we could to obey it—and whether that order made sense or not did not matter in the slightest. We also learned, fairly quickly, that the time to do said orders was immediately, and without hesitation—unless it was a time-related order like, you will be ready to go in exactly 15 minutes. This learning process continued for the next three months of basic training and then carried on for the next twelve years as I served on active duty in the United State Marine Corps.
What does this trip down memory lane have to do with this week’s parasha, you may ask? Hopefully it will become clear soon.
This week’s parasha is Beha’alotcha (“when you set up”). There are numerous items covered in this parasha, but I want to focus on Numbers 9:15–23, which begins,
On the day the Tabernacle was erected, the cloud covered the Tabernacle. By evening until morning, the cloud above the Tent of Testimony had an appearance like fire. It was that way continually. The cloud covered it, and by night it appeared like fire. (9:15–16)
This passage is reminiscent of the scene in Exodus 40 when the setup of the Tabernacle was completed, and it was consecrated.
So, Moses finished the work. Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of Adonai filled the Tabernacle. For the cloud of Adonai was on the Tabernacle by day and a fire was there by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys. (Exod 40:33–34, 38)
One can but imagine the sight this was. In the very middle of the camp and ringed by the tribe of Levi, who had charge of the Tabernacle (Num 1:50), was the visible Presence of Adonai, surrounded by the rest of the Israelites, as well as by the myriads of those who accompanied them in the Exodus. The Presence appeared either as a cloud by day or pillar of fire by night, and was seen 24/7 in the midst of Bnei-Yisrael, the people of Israel.
Now comes the connection with my little trip down memory lane:
Whenever the cloud lifted up from above the Tent, then Bnei-Yisrael would set out, and at the place where the cloud settled, there Bnei-Yisrael would encamp. At the mouth of Adonai, Bnei-Yisrael would set out, and at the mouth of Adonai they would encamp. All the days that the cloud remained over the Tabernacle; they would remain in camp. (Num 9:17–18)
It appears that Bnei-Yisrael moved, not at their own initiative but at the command of Adonai (or Hashem). The passage goes on to state that at times the camp would remain in place for many days, at other times for just a few days, and on occasion, just overnight. In the Word Bible Commentary on Numbers, Philip J. Budd rightly agrees with most other biblical commentators that, while Israel’s history was rife with episodes of obedience and disobedience, in the matter of the Tabernacle in the Wilderness they at least stayed on track. Equally, Israel’s obedience to move or not to move showed a dependence upon Hashem’s right, and even responsibility, to guide Israel through the trials of the Wilderness. I believe Budd’s most important observation, however, is that, “The movement of God, symbolized by the cloud, and God’s times may not always be subject to rational explanation. Man’s (Israel’s and our) commitment is to follow in faith” (p. 104).
But, as Israel discovered, following Hashem by faith was not an easy journey.
If any of you have ever gone camping, remember how long it took to set up your camp for the evening, or maybe for the weekend, or even an extended campout. Now multiply that by 603,550 (Num 1:46), plus wives, children, Levites, servants, livestock etc. Finally consider that if you were in that crowd of 600,000 plus, setting up camp, you had no idea if this was going to be an overnighter or if you might be there for a year or even more. With this in mind, words from the author of Hebrews become even more meaningful. “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of realities not seen” (Heb 11:1).
When walking by faith, we are not guaranteed the knowledge of the “whats and whys” of our walk. Like Israel, we may not know how long that walk might be or what its various stops or detours might be like. We can have our hopes or ideas, but in all things, we must trust in
Hashem and his guidance as we walk out life’s journey. In this life of chaos and confusion, we can hold onto these words from the Psalmist: “For this God is our God, forever and ever! He will guide us to the end” (Psa 48:14).
In this we can have the assurance that just as Hashem guided and directed Bnei Israel in the Wilderness, with all of the side trips and detours, he will guide us through the wildernesses of our lives as well. Likewise, just like Bnei-Yisrael in the Wilderness, we too should “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7).
Shabbat shalom u’mevorach!