Parashat Bamidbar 5776: About the desert and Her Majesty
In memory of Ido Ben Ari, Ilana Neve, Michael Feige and Mila Mishayev, murdered this week in Tel Aviv by Palestinian terrorists. May their memory be a blessing.
We usually see this Parashah as one of the less exciting ones in the Torah, but back then? In the Israelite camp at the feet of Mount Sinai? Was a moment of great excitement. More than a year has passed since they left Egypt and they now finally are starting the big preparations to continue their journey. A few more weeks we will be there! They thought. We know that the few more weeks would turn into 39 years of bitterness and disappointment. But why should we tell them? Why spoiling the excitement of the moment? I have to confess something about myself. When I am reading a good book, sometimes I can’t wait to finish reading the whole thing and I will jump to the end just to read a little bit of what happens at the end, only a little bit. Then I will go back to where I was and I will try to understand how it gets from this point to that ending. Maybe there are some of you like me. But then, I have a question for us: If it would be the book of our life, our biography, would you jump to the end to read the last pages? There are many reasons not to do it, buy I want to speak about one of them. And please don’t take it personal, I am with you on this. Actually, we probably should take it personal as it is very much. The main reason not to peek ahead is that one that does this is simply a person of very little faith? Why? Because the principle on which we read the end of a book is because we believe that the story cannot change. If the story of the book could change, then there would not be any point to peek ahead to the current end, because it might change. Now imagine a science fiction situation where the books we read change during our reading. That the book, according to the feelings and emotions it receives from us, reacts and changes every time the story. Imagine that we could read a book an infinite amount of times and be surprised because every time the story develops differently. Well, this is the way we should read the Torah, because it has an infinite amount of endings! This is the way we should read our personal story, because at this point it has an infinite amount of endings! This is the way we should live our lives because there are an infinite amount of paths for us to choose! This week we have together both the preparations for the continuation of the journey in the desert, in the wilderness; and also the festival of Shavuot, the festival of the giving of the Torah. The Torah was given in the desert and the classical commentaries insist that the Torah can be given only in the desert and not in the Land of Israel, for example. The desert is the place of the infinite possibilities, huge open spaces, all the choices available. Israel’s Torah is like that, 70 faces to the Torah said Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra almost a 1000 years ago, but he didn’t mean actually 70. He meant 70 as a symbolic number meaning infinite possibilities. Both the Book of the Torah and the Book of our lives are a mystery, one of infinite possibilities and paths for us to follow. When Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor was born on the 21st of April 1926 she was third in the line of succession, she was supposed to be a secondary member of the Royal Family, the kind that smiles in pictures for social events and makes the pages of tabloids. Her father, Prince Albert Duke of York was not supposed to be King. But we live in the desert, in the place of infinite possibilities, and her destiny changed when her uncle, Edward VIII, chose for better or worst love over the Crown and abdicated in order to marry Wallis Simpson. Her father became King as George VI and Elizabeth became heir apparent. The wisdom of life is to respond to the infinite possibilities by choosing our path into them, by taking action to embrace that destiny. Princess Elizabeth did so and she grew up preparing to be Queen, showing such responsibility and seriousness that even Winston Churchill was impressed and said once: “She is a character. She has an air of authority and reflectiveness astonishing in an infant”. Her father died young and in 1952, during a visit to Kenya, she was informed by Phillip her husband of the death of her father, the King and that now she was the Queen of the United Kingdom. During her lengthy rule she saw the British Empire turn into the Commonwealth of Nations, the decolonization of Africa and the Caribbean, wars overseas, family crisis and tragedies, she gave an incredible example of peacemaking by being the first British Monarch to visit the Republic of Ireland in 2011, celebrated her Diamond Jubilee in 2012 and on 9th September 2015 surpassed her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria by becoming the longest-reigning British Monarch and the longest-reigning queen regnant in history. She continues to be highly popular in the UK with a 90% approval rating. I am not a subject of Queen Elizabeth, but I have always had a profound respect for her as a Head of State and a force for good in the World. I believe that my feelings are shared by thousands of people abroad that even if they opposed the idea of Monarchy as a political system they do respect the person of the Queen for her long service to her country and her own personality and devotion. Personally, every time I am present when the National Anthem is sung I feel awkward by not being British but at the same time feeling the impulse to join the singing. As a guest in her Kingdom I do thank her for the hospitality of the British people to me and my family. Bamidbar. In the desert. We all live in this desert full of possibilities and options, of different paths, without being able to jump ahead and peek the end of the story, because there is no such end, not yet. Everything we do, feel and achieve. Every path given to us or chosen by us changes that ending that I wish it will be extraordinary for each one of us. As the little Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor, we don’t know how much greatness is waiting for us ahead of the road; but I do hope that as the Princess Elizabeth we will be able to rise up to the occasion and do the best with the path in front of us, with the choices given to us. May we, like Queen Elizabeth II, live a long life of accomplishment and good influence in the World, and may we, towards the end of our story, feel that we have at least a 90% approval from those important to us. Shabbat Shalom, Chag Shavuot Sameach and God Bless the Queen.