In the Wilderness, Toward the Caravan

Preparing. Taking stock. Seeking vision. Exploring leadership and community.

This week, May 28 – June 4, Jews worldwide begin a new book in the annual cycle of Torah readings. The Book of Numbers is the fourth of the Five Books of Moses, known as “Bamidbar [In the Wilderness]” in Hebrew. It encompasses 38 of the Israelites’ 40 wilderness years, and the first portion (Numbers 1:1-4:20) opens with a census: Preparing for a journey. Taking stock of people and resources. Seeking vision. Exploring leadership and community.

This week Clergy Beyond Borders is taking some of its first concrete steps toward this fall’s “Religious Leaders for Reconciliation” Caravan: Preparing. Taking stock. Seeking vision. Exploring leadership and community.

To explore these parallel journeys, CBB is beginning this interfaith text study. Join us in preparing the way for September’s Caravan of Reconciliation. Help us amplify voices for pluralism and counter extremism in our various traditions, beginning with this learning project.

Acknowledging Mighty Intangibles

“Numbers helps give us a big vision,” says David Guzik, director of Calvary Chapel Bible College in Siegen, Germany. “Where is God taking us? What will it take of us to get there? What inward qualities will God develop and demand in us along the way?”

Noting that, according to the text, “The Levites, however, were not recorded among them by their ancestral tribe” (Numbers 1:47), Guzik adds:

“Taking inventory is fine; even a necessary first step in organizing for victory in taking hold of God’s promises. But it must always be done understanding that some of the important factors – as the Levites were in Israel – cannot be counted. No inventory is totally complete! God always works mightily through the intangibles.”
— from David Guzik’s Commentaries on the Bible,


  • Are we attempting to develop the qualities likely to be demanded of us on our journey?
  • Do we leave room for “the intangibles” when devising and/or implementing our plans?
  • While some communities speak easily of “God’s will” and expect progress “insha’Allah” [God willing], others speak more obliquely of God’s role in our journeys. Can we develop a language that works across such differences?

  • Honoring Multiple Voices

    In Numbers 2:1, the prophetic brothers Moses and Aaron are addressed equally by God: “va-y’daber HASHEM el-moshe v’el-aharon… [and God spoke to Moses and to Aaron].” They are so addressed in the Torah 18 times, and “18” is the numerical value of “life” [chai — spelled chet-yod = 8+10]. This means that Israel needed the prayers of both men to survive and experience redemption, according to the medieval commentary Numbers Rabbah,*. For this reason, too, the commentary says, the number 18 is integral to the central prayer of Judaism: The Amidah [standing prayer] (AKA Shemoneh Esrei [“the Eighteen”]), repeated three times each day, was originally formed of 18 blessings.


  • Do we honor and encourage multiple voices in our communities?
  • Do we recognize multiple paths to God?
  • How do we understand the power of others’ prayers?

  • Seeking Divine Guidance

    Speaking of the Children of Israel and their leaders, the Qur’an (As Sajdah [Prostration] 32:24) says: “We raised among them leaders who, so long as they bore themselves with patience and had sure faith in Our messages, guided [their people] in accordance with Our behest — [so, too, shall it be with the divine writ revealed unto thee, O Muhammad.]”

    Translator Muhammad Asad notes a concern about a “tendency…to corrupt the text of the Torah.” Similarly, the verse is also read to mean that “the Qur’an is destined to provide guidance and light so long as the community’s religious leaders are patient in adversity and steadfast in their faith.”


  • Do we support patience and faith in our leaders?
  • Do we foster these attributes in ourselves?
  • Where are the places in our own lives and in our communities in need of guidance?

  • *Reference found in the Plaut Torah commentary. See
    Source Materials for full citation and more information. For more on the 18 blessings, see “Bamidbar Prayer Links.” back

    (Virginia A. Spatz, 5/27/11)


    6 thoughts on “In the Wilderness, Toward the Caravan

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