Sefer Bemidbar deals almost entirely with the Torah’s relationship to the supernatural, to our miraculous existence in the desert. The desert is not a location suited to permanent human habitation, but is rather a transitory stage in one’s travels between two locations. The desert is not a place of agricultural development, nor does it serve as a basis for development and construction. It does not contain any presence of sanctity and therefore one requires particular Divine Providence and assistance if one is to survive the perils of the desert. The desert is dangerous, volatile, and it greatly influences all those who enter it.
Prior to any trial or tribulation, the Torah always equips us with the tools to overcome them. Thus, the greatness of the Torah is that it relates to the disordered, temporary, and unsteady life of nomadic wanderings among the sands of the desert, awarding us the tools with which to successfully assault and conquer this harsh experience.
The Torah records the precise order the nation is to adopt while sojourning in the desert. Heads are appointed to the Tribes, a census is taken of all tribes according to the paternal family lines, the kohanimand levi’im must enter the service of God in His Mishkan (Tabernacle) – the various paternal lines of Levi are assigned their specific positions and tasks regarding the Mishkan, tribes are positioned to each side of the Mishkan, a single flag leading them in unity. Fine attention is paid to every detail in one of the greatest displays of perfect order and timing.
These aspects are extremely important. Many events occur in our lives that cause us pain and anguish – the intensity of which may often be alleviated by the presence of order. Often the very lack of discipline and authority, and also the deficiencies of one’s own ordered existence, raise problems for us. If a child would listen to his parent, if the student would listen to his teacher, and the soldier to his commanding officer, if only each one of us were to fulfill that which he had been commanded, every government agency and the entire public sector would fulfill its destiny, preventing many occasions of displeasure and pain.
The great achievements one may experience result from obeying the rules, remaining within the set framework, and the correct assumption of public positions and tasks. This order may bring great individual and communal blessings, which must not be underestimated. However, blind subjugation to the very framework of order – as an end in and of itself – can cause one to err, for once the order has been achieved one must move towards his goal. Once one lives an ordered existence, this order must be employed as a medium to progress and achieve one’s goals. The great importance of an ordered existence must not mislead us into transforming order and structure from a means to a goal of independent importance. Indeed, this is the inherent tremendous danger contained within this experience of one who strives for order.
As in every conflict, when two opposing forces meet, each claiming utter and total rule – freedom as opposed to an ordered framework, the solution must be compromise. Both freedom and a solid framework containing the realm of one’s actions are important. We strive to refine our individual qualities, allowing our natures and unique abilities to shine forth and illuminate the world, yet we require the foundations and vessel that must support and contain our individual expressions of spirituality and free creativity. For the correct framework and structure – the mediums by which we are to act – will direct our energies and efforts in the correct direction, towards the attainment of our goals.
The opening of Sefer Bemidbar which depicts our journey amidst the dangers of the desert – the desolation and stark nakedness of a land filled with snakes and scorpions – requires the observance of order as a crucial condition for bringing the manifestation of God’s glory into the desert, which will then permeate the long journey to the Promised Land, to Zion and Jerusalem.