MATTOT

The Jewish Chronicle - - JUDAISM - LIND­SAY SIM­MONDS

“The chil­dren of Gad and... Reuben came and spoke to Moses, say­ing : Atarot and Di­bon and Jazer and Nim­rah and Hesh­bon and Elealeh and Se­bam and Nebo and Beon”

AT this point in the jour­ney through the wilder­ness, the To­rah tells us that the tribes of Gad and Reuben had many cat­tle. They saw fer­tile land, and al­though the orig­i­nal plan was to cross the Jordan River and set­tle on its western side, these two tribes, unbe­set by a slave men­tal­ity, en­gage in their own des­tiny and ask Moses and the elders if they could in­stead set­tle here in Tran­sjor­dan.

Amid the sem­i­nal ne­go­ti­a­tions of whether tribes might de­cide for them­selves where to set­tle, we find a num­ber of lists.

As the con­tem­po­rary scholar Is­mar Schorsch has stated, “lists are the most rudi­men­tary type of his­tor­i­cal ev­i­dence. To us they are life­less and repet­i­tive, de­void of sig­nif­i­cance. Yet, for the his­to­rian en­dowed with imag­i­na­tion, they of­ten be­come the build­ing blocks for first-rate eco­nomic, so­cial or po­lit­i­cal his­tory.” Lists might seem ir­rel­e­vant, a triv­ial ac­count of place names but ev­ery word of the To­rah is sa­cred and “po­ten­tially rife with pro­fun­dity”, thus the rab­binic tra­di­tion holds ev­ery word dear. As Schorsch says “there is noth­ing which is not ca­pa­ble at some point in our lives to erupt with tran­scen­dent mean­ing.”

The tra­di­tion of read­ing the sidrah in ad­vance of Shabbat means we are pre­pared for it not only through ac­tion, but by means of our imag­i­na­tion. We bring our­selves and our his­to­ries, our ca­pa­bil­i­ties and po­ten­tials and we en­able the text to come alive through our read­ing of it. The lists in Bemid­bar (Num­bers) are the com­mu­nica­tive tools of God and it is for us to ex­plore their pro­fun­dity.

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