Parashah (portion) Bamidbar – The End of The World, Again
Numbers 1:1 – 4:20
Congratulations! You have survived the latest end of the world prediction. For those of you who might not know, a certain Harold Camping predicted that Judgment Day, ushering in the end of the world, would come on the day of the 7000th anniversary of Noah’s flood –which he figured to be May 21st, 2011. He, of course, was way off since, according to the Jewish calendar, we are barely in the year 5771 since the creation of the world!
Although we don’t entertain such doomsday notions, the awareness of one’s ultimate demise (which after all, may come at any time) is useful to keep in mind. What if my world was coming to an end imminently? How would I prioritize the few days and weeks I have left? Would I continue to hold on to my anger, my resentments, and my self-righteousness, or might I consider forgiveness, thus liberating myself from inner suffering? When I do this exercise I can’t help but begin to laugh at myself in the face of the absurdity of my continuously wanting to hold on to these notions about how things “should be,” and how others have wronged me, which ultimately only makes me miserable. Tremendous lightness comes with such an insight and healing accompanies the laughter.
There is another level of truth to be grasped through this exercise. Because our world is continuously changing, it is not too far-fetched to realize that, each day, the world as we know it comes to an end, and that each morning we awaken to a new reality that we are to navigate. But locked in the habituated mind, we are unable to truly be present to the uniqueness of each day, of each moment through which we travel. We are confined to the mind’s need for predictable patterns and get upset when our routine is disrupted. The creatures of habit that we are go through each day living mostly in our minds, grabbing onto the familiar, and the expected. One of the ways to help us break through this mechanical way of being is with the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness practice, the art of being present to each moment, helps us pay attention to the preciousness of every little experience in our everyday life. The Hebrew expression for “paying attention”: “lasim lev,” meaning “to place heart” is particularly evocative. The Hebrew is telling us to pour our heart into every moment we live.
We can view this week’s Torah portion as a practice in mindfulness. In it we find a detailed description of how the sons of Kehat were to pack the Holy of Holies each time the tribes transitioned from one encampment to the next. Mindful of every aspect of their work, pouring their heart into their every task, Kehat’s sons took great care in honoring this holiest of spaces. Their example teaches us, on one level, to be mindful of our actions in the external world, but shows us as well the internal dimensions of such a practice. For us, the Holy of Holies is no longer a structure to be found on the outside but a space to be nurtured on the inside. We care for and honor that holy space within by living a mindful life. The most powerful mindfulness practice in Judaism is that of blessing. Blessing helps us mark the many transitions that occur throughout our day. Even without knowing the Hebrew formula for each blessing, simply stating “I am now aware of the Presence as I am about to enter/leave/eat/travel/meet…etc” helps train our awareness to recognize the spiritual dimension of our being and our life, and to break free from the tyranny of the self-absorbed, habituated ego.
So even if the world might not come to an end anytime soon, we would be remiss not to take advantage of our stay of execution. Consider taking seriously that some day, your world will end. Keeping this awareness alive prompts us to seize the opportunity to lead, breath by breath, more peaceful, loving, and compassionate lives; mindful of the holiness in every experience, the blessing of every moment.
© 2011 Rabbi Olivier BenHaim, All rights reserved.