Navigating the Next Chapter

The dynamism between a spiritual life and sacred scripture involves finding parallel narratives. The stories, concepts, and ideas expressed in scripture are linked by the reader to his or her own life. In this way the text, and by extension, God, is speaking to the reader and relating to his or her personal situation. During this difficult time of COVID-19, it hasn’t been hard to see life through our scriptural reading. In fact, the comparison has sometimes been eerie.

We just finished the book of Leviticus during our weekly Torah reading. This book focused on ritual purity, impurity, diseases, and contamination which require quarantine. Need I say more?! Now we move into our fourth book of the Torah, Bamidbar (Numbers) which takes a different look at the spiritual journey of the Jewish people. Unlike our last book which dictated procedures and biblical medicine, this next chapter continues the journey through the desert away from Mt. Sinai and deeper into the wilderness. This book doesn’t discuss procedures but, instead, focuses on dysfunctional relationship dynamics. The challenge for Moses is not in teaching the people this new way of life but in managing the personalities, suppressing rebellions, and moving forward a people who complain all the time. This is also the book in which God has enough of the people’s bickering and complaining, condemning them to wander for 38 more years. This is a different sort of book from the last.

Now that we are starting the book of Numbers, I am worried. For a while, during the early days of this pandemic, we were seeing the best in each other. Random acts of kindness were the headlines as neighbors looked out for each other, strangers showed concerns for one another and we were sharing our best selves with everybody we met. However, with over nine weeks sheltering in place, I am starting to hear a change in tone. Where are we going to find ourselves through these next few Torah readings? Knowing that our scriptural readings focus on betrayal, wicked rebellions, and extended exiles, should we be prepared for some of that in our life? Will we stop looking for ways to support each other and instead begin finding fault, casting blame, and flinging shame? The next few weeks are going to be filled with a lot of angst and consternation. We will probably see our nation take one step forward and two steps back. That will present a challenging reality in and of itself. How we respond to the people around us, how we mobilize to ensure that the most vulnerable find the care and support they need, will ultimately be how we are viewed in the eyes of God. I pray that our journey through this wilderness is shorter for us than it was our ancestors. Be kind. It is our holy option.