Bamidbar - An Empty Tank

by Rebbetzin Malkah

"We like to continue to believe what we have been accustomed to accept as true, and the resentment aroused when doubt is cast upon any of our assumptions leads us to seek every manner of excuse for clinging to them.  The result is that most of our so-called reasoning consists in finding arguments for going on believing as we already do."    James Harvey Robinson, American historian (1863-1936)

A quote like the one above succinctly sums up the tone and the troubles of the Children of Israel throughout the book of Bamidbar.  The continuing struggle for a past reality, the misconception that all that there was and is now is all that will be, and the struggle to step forward in faith.  As we see all around the world, society is becoming disgruntled over the price of fuel.  Not one of us wants to pay more for the substance, but neither does anyone wish to run completely out of petrol on the highway or byway.  But perhaps the solution coming our way is quite contrary to what we might expect or desire.  Indeed, what we might need is to come to the verge of running out completely in order to spur on a true change and a new hope.  As B'nei Yisrael needed to enter the vast desert to run out all of their adverse ways, the future of transportation and our own lives is very much dependent on one thing for change:  an empty tank.

The Sixth Sense

"Savor and see that Hashem is good; happy is the man who takes refuge in Him."  Tehillim (34:9)

While this might seem like an absurdity, this is challenging us to reach beyond our five senses and our natural ability to perceive and experience our surroundings.  How can one "savor", or as the Hebrew says ta'amu, the Holy One?  By the tone of this, it is must be alluding to reach to a higher level of perception: that of the soul.  But what if our sixth sense, our soul sense, is overwhelmed and our response mechanism is damaged - how then is it possible to perceive or taste the Divine?

The very reason that Hashem decided to take B'nei Yisrael on the route through the wilderness was not because they needed an exotic holiday trek - the very pores of their souls were so clogged with the godlessness of Mitzrayim that this journey was a necessary cleansing.  Their past was so much a part of them that it emanated through the pores of their other senses.  Everything they saw, tasted, heard, felt and smelled was tainted with the bitterness of slavery from their past life.  The only place where they could empty themselves out completely and be filled anew was in the desert.  This process, however, would not prove to be an easy one:  for that which is to be emptied must be poured out.  This detoxification and emptying procedure is not only difficult because of what it requires of us physically, but also what it asks of us mentally.  It demands not only compliance but faith as well- faith in something not yet perceivable by the hindered soul.  And this is what causes the most trouble through Sefer Bamidbar and for us today in our own growth.

Recalibration of the Senses

Before Hashem could begin the emptying process, He needed to soothe his people by adjusting their five senses.  He did so through a planned course of action designed not only to change the perceptive process, but also sensitize the soul.

By the Yetziat Mitzrayim (the Exodus from Egypt) Hashem showed us His miracles and gave our eyes wonders to behold.  He implanted a visual for all generations by His power through the plagues and by giving us the parting of the Sea.  B'nei Yisrael was able to see His love.  Through this, we could slowly erase the horror of the brutality we witnessed in Mitzrayim.

During our initial trek into the wilderness, He gave B'nei Yisrael manna to eat; this taste was unlike anything they had before.  It not only brought pleasure but also permeated their being and seeped into their souls.  Taste held new meaning: a special closeness and concern on behalf of their Creator.  No longer would they eat to survive, they would experience nourishment with pleasure and flavor.

When B'nei Yisrael encamped around Mount Sinai to receive the Torah, the sound of the shofar and Hashem's voice filled them with great emotion.  For the first time in their lives, they heard the proof of that which they had come to believe didn't exist anymore:  G-d Himself.  In Mitzrayim, despite all of the gods that were worshipped, none were ever heard from - their existence was imaginary.  This sound would change their lives forever and they declared they would do all that they heard.

As the Mishkan came into being, fragrant incense would linger in the surrounding air from the Incense Altar.  This smell became the memory device of the sweetness of worship of Hashem and replaced the incense of pagan Mitzrayim. In addition, it also wafted into the recesses of their souls as the aroma of intimacy with the Creator.

Lastly, the sense of touch was redefined.  "Take a census [Se'u et rosh-literally, "Lift up the head"] of the whole Israelite community." The word se'u is only used when the intention is to indicate greatness (that is, holding high one's head) (Ramban on Numbers 1:2).  This Divine census is done in endearment, unlike other nations who count solely for military might.  This counting was a way of showing that every male was equal, special, necessary and made b'tzelem Elokim (in the Divine Image).  As B'nei Yisrael struggles to free itself from being just another worker or insignificant element, this Divine touch or special hand-counting lifts the head and the spirit of the people.  It removes the slivers of painful touch, of the whips, lingering deep within their soul from their days in Mitzrayim.

As each of these senses are redefined and honed, B'nei Yisrael draws closer to being able to commune with Hashem on a soul level.  The emptying out process is almost complete and they are almost ready to "savor Hashem."

The Final Drop

The final drop to be exhausted out of any vessel before it becomes fit to receive what the Divine has to offer a critical realization: that only in our nothingness do we have the ability to contain all.  The soul placed within each of us must be a completely wide open vessel, empty of preconceived notions, prejudices, hang-ups, and closed doors.  It is at this stage that we realize that through this emptiness, we have the capacity to be filled and become completely different people.

To illustrate the purpose and meaning of emptiness, imagine a pot.  A pot is a made from forming a lump of clay into walls.  But what makes the pot so valuable?  Not just the walls of the pot, but the empty space inside of it.  Only within the empty space may something have the room to grow.

Here's a sample exercise in reality.  Have you ever tried to hold five eggs in your hand?  Try it sometime over a towel on the counter.  You will be able to hold them all at once in your hand but only if you extend your fingers in a wide fashion.  It is in this relaxed and larger space, that we are able to hold that which is seemingly too great for us to manage with a more closed hand.  In the same fashion, the vast expanse of the desert was the antidote for our ancestors.  This open arena, void of all diversions, slowly emptied out the soul's bile and allowed it to be filled with Divine installments.  Their uncluttered souls and senses were wide open to wisdom and change, if they wanted.

And that is the final drop - if they, if we, if you want. One must desire the Torah, desire to be more intimate with the Creator.  Only then can an individual or a community pour out the last drop and be empty. If we settle on a way of living and thinking that does not open our senses and our soul to experiencing new heights of mitzvot and closeness, then we are not alive.   We fall into the category of people in the Yiddish proverb, "Many people see things but few understand them." We lose our ability to grow and change - we start to die spiritually.  This death takes on the face of ambivalence to the Spirit of G-d and the hope of Mashiach.

"As seed in the world of ideal, we are all that we are, but not all that we can become; we are encased in all our potentials, but remain barren of their fruition until we can become implanted in the garden of the living, in the whirlwind of interactive dynamics that is life."  [1]

Just as our Mashiach Yeshua entered the wilderness to pour out the last drop of himself, so too must we be agents for change and growth. The exercise of Bamidbar is to use all of our senses to perceive Klal Yisrael and the Holy One- something we were not able to do in Mitzrayim. We must empty out our previous realities of authority (idols or not), find ourselves responsible for the community around us and the world, and learn to listen to the voice resonating within ourselves so we can contain the light which Hashem has for us through Mashiach Yeshua.

So go ahead, drive your tank until it runs dry.  Reach for a new destiny by pouring out every last drop of your reserve - that reserve which keeps driving you around in circles.   Don't be afraid of an empty tank - it could prove to be the beginning of the best moments of your life.

 


[1] Winkler, Gershom. The Place Where You Are Standing Is Holy. pg 145

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