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Parashat Hashavuah: Bemidbar

“Assuredly, I will speak tenderly to her and lead her through the wilderness and speak tenderly to her” Hosea 2:16

    The haftarah for Parashat Bemidbar is from the Book of Hosea. Hosea’s book is a prophecy against the people of the Northern Kingdom of Israel who have betrayed the Covenant, both through their dealings with foreign nations and their religious practices; they have become idol worshippers.

    Hosea prophesies that God will exile the people into the wilderness, and turn the then prosperous land back into a wilderness if the people do not change. For it is only in the wilderness that God can speak to the people and restore the covenantal relationship, thereby restoring knowledge of God.

    Bemidbar, the name for the Book of Numbers, literally means “in the wilderness”.The root of the word is dalet, bet, resh,  which is also the root of the word meaning to speak. Wilderness is the place for speech, bemidbar. But what does it mean to say that in the wilderness God speaks to Moses; surely He speaks to Moses in a lot of other places?

    The speaking that takes place in the wilderness throughout the Book of Numbers reflects the development of the relationship between God and God’s people. The trials they undergo, the rejection of God, of their leaders and of the land, all come together in this book to explore the maturing relationship that exists between the covenantal partners.

    Bemidbar is a reminder that sometimes we need to shed our disguises and our masks (as best we can) and enter into relationships in as true and genuine fashion as possible. We meet one another without politics, without our preconceptions and sometimes without even the need to speak. When we achieve this, we stand in opposition to the often shallow and manipulative world of things, which in Hebrew are devarim — another derivation of the root from which we get the terms midbar and diber. Only then can we hear the tenderness of heartfelt speech.
     

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