People walking in solemn procession, wearing different, special clothes, taking steps on a new journey, marking a new stage in their lives. Graduation? Actually, Bamidbar. "In the second year, on the 20th day of the second month, the cloud lifted from the Tabernacle of the Pact, and the Israelites set out on their journeys from the wilderness of Sinai." (Num 10:11) Well, you can't stay at Sinai forever. God and Moses knew that it was getting time to leave, and in B'ha'alotcha , the people finally get on the move. In Chapter 10 of Bamidbar, we get a very detailed listing of who goes out in front of whom, troop by troop, flag by flag, tribe by tribe. The layout of the community, when camped in one place, is described in the text in great detail. It is the same layout as when the Israelites are on the move. In peace and in battle, they camp and move as a unit, with every tribe in their right place, all situated with a purpose. To the East, the direction in which they start marching, there is the tribe of Judah leading, along with Issachar and Zevulun. To the South is Reuben, accompanied by Gad and Simeon. On the North, led by Dan, also finds Asher and Naphtali, while Ephraim, Menasseh, and Benjamin bring up the rear, to the West. And what's in the middle? The heart, soul, and center of the entire people-the Tent of Meeting, with the Levites in attendance. They had the great responsibility of taking care of the holiest spot in the community. The Levites and the Mishkan were protected on all sides, as the people set out, with certain people carrying poles and sockets, and others carrying the sacred utensils. Although we may not think of it this way, what happened at Sinai was a learning experience. The Israelites, through Moses, from God, learned about living in a world created by God, where their relationship with God became solidified. Often we think of the Covenant as one forged between parent and child, or spouses. Perhaps we can see it also as a teacher/student template. Their instructions covered everything from building the Tabernacle to dealing with honest weights in their pockets, from the mundane to the holy, year round and for all time. They stayed at Sinai for as long they needed to be there, to complete their "schooling" before setting out. They had the best professor in history, and their "textbook" is still the greatest one written.
The Israelites were on the third real moment of their journey. First, they left Egypt and second, they arrived at Sinai. Now, they had to take the next step, traveling into the wilderness with a new goal in mind-getting to the Land God had promised them. First steps are nerve-racking- third steps are, too. It's good to have a community around you. It's good to have goals, even if they may change, and it's good know that you fit in, even if you're not sure how.
This month, many individuals will take new steps, in special clothes, in a specific order, in front of a community of loved ones. They have been learning for years, and like the Israelites, are ready to step forward and begin putting what they've learned into practice. A wide open horizon will beckon them forward and it will seem like endless wilderness at times, testing them throughout their trek to their next place of repose. But they will have the community in formation around them, protecting their hearts and souls.
Mazal tov to the graduates of June 2015, especially mine. May your journeys be safe, meaningful, and wondrous. n
Anita Silvert is a freelance teacher and writer, living in Northbrook. You can read more of her weekly Torah musings on her blog, Jewish Gems, www.anitasilvert.wordpress.com .