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The Shepherd's Word


Torah Portion: Parashat Bamidbar ("in the desert")

Shabbat: May 20, 2023 / Iyyar 29, 5783


Jesus’ Prayer For All Believers

“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me”. John 17:20-23


The sages named the fourth book of the Torah "Bamidbar" (בּמדבּר) meaning "in the desert," because the word occurs in its opening verse, and also because it aptly describes the Israelites' forty years of wanderings in the desert of Sinai after the great Exodus. Because the LORD commanded a census of people to be taken several times in the book, however, the midrash calls it "Sefer Hapikudim" (ספר הפקדים), or the "Book of Countings," from which the English translation "the Book of Numbers" is derived. Interestingly, the Hebrew word for desert (i.e., midbar:מִדְבַּר), originally meant "from where the cattle are driven," that is, an area of pasturage that was uninhabited and fit for animal grazing. The Hebrew root "davar" (דבר) means "word" but also means "shepherd," evoking the call and direction of one who would guide his flock...

The book begins: "The Lord spoke (דבר) to Moses in the desert of Sinai, in the Tent of Meeting" (Num. 1:1). Now recall that during their wandering in the desert God's presence was symbolized by the Mishkan, or "Tabernacle," a central tent-like structure that had a secret inner chamber called the Holy of Holies, and within that hidden chamber was a sacred chest called the Ark of the Covenant (ארון הברית) that held the tablets of the Ten Commandments. Upon the cover of the Ark, called the kapporet, were two cherubim (angelic figures), and it was there that God's audible word was spoken (see Exod. 25:22).

In light of this, among other things we can understand the book of Bamidbar to recount God's "shepherding words" given to the people as they wandered through desert places in search of the fulfillment of God's promise for their lives. The excursion into the desert is part of the journey of faith. God leads us by way of the desert - through struggle and waste places - to discipline our hearts to look for the greater hope of Zion.

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