Numbers 1:2 – 4:20
(In the Wilderness)
A census is taken and the camp is organized according to Tribes.
OUR JOURNEY TAKES US into the Book of Numbers. The Torah, as a guide for our journey, illuminates the process of incarnation in Genesis, and the process of liberation in Exodus. Leviticus concerns itself with maintaining a state of holy connection to God and each other. The Book of Numbers recounts the soul’s journey through the wilderness. That spiritual path sets in motion the process of self-awareness, purification, and re-birth.
The Hebrew name for The Book of Numbers is Bamidbar, which means “in the wilderness.” The wilderness is the place of our journey. We wander for forty years. During this time the generation of slavery dies and a new generation emerges.
The harsh inner reality of the wilderness purifies whatever traces of enslavement we still carry. This wilderness is the midwife of our new life, after long and hard labor. The wilderness forces us to face the resistance, ambivalence and self-delusion that has kept us from whole-heartedly receiving our birthright: the promised flow of milk and honey that is given to us, and through us, with each moment of life. The wilderness will scare out all our old ghosts and send them forth from the shadows into the full light of awareness.
In the wilderness we are stripped of disguises. Defenses fall away. Each part within us is forced to show its true face.
BAMIDBAR BEGINS with the taking of the census. On the spiritual journey it is necessary to look within in order to know, recognize and fully understand the myriad aspects that make up the self, “the parliament of personality.”*
The census is taken of all those who are able to go forth in battle. The Israelites are counted in order to be deployed. The Levites, those whose job it is to take care of the Mishkan and all the holy things in it, are exempted from this counting.
As we take the inner census of the personality, as we list the aspects which comprise the force of our egos, we do so to place their power in service to the soul, to our true essence, to the spark of God within us. Our Levite is the part of us who must guard that essence.
AFTER EACH TRIBE IS COUNTED AND NAMED, it is given a role and a place on the periphery of the camp, surrounding the Mishkan and its Levites in the center.
Most indigenous peoples share a keen sensitivity to the compass points. Each direction carries a particular wind or force that can become our ally as we journey. We learn where to stand, where to face and how to open ourselves to those energies.
- I LOOK TO THE EAST, with Issachar, Judah and Zebulon, to face the rising sun, opening to new beginnings, new possibilities.
- I TURN TO THE SOUTH, with Gad, Reuben and Simeon, to receive warmth, comfort and constancy.
- I LOOK WEST, with Manasseh, Ephraim and Benjamin, to find a vision of where my path must lead me.
- I FACE THE NORTH, with Asher, Dan and Naphtali, and open myself to the wisdom of my ancestors, receiving their guidance and challenges.
- I LOOK TO THE HEAVENS and open to the wide expanse.
- AND I LOOK TO THE EARTH beneath me for grounding and support.
The blessing of Bamidbar places my soul at the center of the Mishkan, guarded and surrounded by the part of me that is mindful of holiness. And that circle is surrounded by the circle of my personality, which places itself in service to the soul. Each aspect stands in its place, knowing that it is the God-spark at the center that is in charge.
*This is a phrase I learned from my teacher Paul Ray.
THE SPIRITUAL CHALLENGE
EVERY ONE OF THE VOICES THAT CLAMOR inside me thinks that it is the sole TRUTH. The process of discernment requires great patience, self-compassion and often a good sense of humor.
As we begin to sort out our inner voices, we realize we contain different characters — some of whom would like to take charge of our lives but shouldn’t.
AN EXAMPLE: My husband and I were in the kitchen making lunch. He was fixing a cheese sandwich for himself. Earlier that day I had told him that I was trying to reduce my dairy intake because of allergies. Suddenly I turned to him and blurted out, “I want cheese!” My husband smiled and asked, “Who was that?”
The voice that had popped out of me was so young and petulant that it made us both laugh. When I examined where the voice came from, I saw that she was about five years old. She was pouting with frustration. Once I identified the voice, I felt compassion for the little girl, even as I let her know firmly and gently that she would not be deciding what was for lunch.
By listening carefully to the voices within, and identifying their source, we avoid becoming victims of that “parliament of personalities” within us which would pull us this way and that. Often their demands are the result of unhealed wounds from the past. Sometimes, the decisions made by the wrong aspect of our personality are more serious than what to eat for lunch. Great harm can be done to ourselves and others. An even more serious consequence is that we may never allow the holy and wise one within us a chance to be heard.
GUIDANCE FOR PRACTICE
There are two practices for this week of Bamidbar. The first is a meditation to help you observe your thoughts. The second practice for this week of Bamidbar is to identify and name at least three of the voices that sit in the parliament of your personality.
FIND A COMFORTABLE PLACE TO SIT, close your eyes, and allow your mind to settle down.
PAY ATTENTION TO THE TONE and feeling of each thought rather than to its content.
SET A TIMER AND SIT FOR TEN MINUTES. Notice each thought, label it and gently let it go, waiting for the next thought to emerge.
For example, as I sit quietly a thought pops into my head about someone I need to call today. I notice that the tone of this thought is anxious. I recognize the worrier who feels like she’s juggling too many things. The thought of breakfast triggers a whole series of thoughts about what I might cook for dinner tonight. I recognize the planner, who always likes to be one step ahead of the game.
The practice of meditation helps us get to know the voices inside our heads. With recognition comes compassion, and with compassion comes freedom. I can choose which thoughts to act on, which thoughts to release.
Identifying Inner Voices (A Week-long Practice)
FOCUS ON THIS PRACTICE throughout the week. Pay attention for the moments when you hear one of those voices rise up within you.
WHEN YOU HEAR A VOICE, stop and identify it. Give it a name. Ask her how old she is. Find out what she is really afraid of, then comfort her and send her to her proper place at the edge of the camp.
THEN YOU CAN TURN WITHIN and call forth the Levite, the one who guards the Holy of Holies inside you. Ask her to take charge, to bring her wisdom to your life.
TURN FULLY towards that holy center and listen.
Torah Journeys: The Inner Path to the Promised Land
©2006 Shefa Gold. All rights reserved.