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Judaism's Newest Tribe #628

05/22/2020 05:16:00 PM


Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Judaism's Newest Tribe

What is it about Judaism that so many feel they don’t belong? 

Within a religion where there are more opinions than Jews one of the greatest tragedies is that so many define their Judaism by what they are not.

Too many feel “Jewbarrassed” because they don’t know the correct spelling for Chanukah, or why we light two candles on Shabbat. Too many are afraid of doing things wrong when they come to religious services.

But then a Torah section comes along reminding us that there are many ways to define our Judaism; that each of us is special, and each of us deserves to be embraced and counted.

This week, we begin reading the fourth book of the Torah, titled Bamidbar – wilderness. Other faiths call it the Book of Numbers.

And it begins with a “poser.” God asks Moses to conduct a census to reveal within the Bible's male focused society how many men over age 20 can be called upon to form an army, as the Israelites continue their post-Passover journey from Egypt to Israel.

So, the question remains: Why does God ask Moses to perform this tedious task, when God being God, knows the answer all along?

Our Sages answer that God wanted “to remind us that not only did each participant count, but that each person also needs to be counted.”

As the Torah portion unfolds, each tribal chief, conducts a tribe-by-tribe count and reports back to Moses. The final count reveals that 603,550 men are ready to fight.

As the above graph depicts, each tribe was arranged under its respective banner, with the Tabernacle God’s central dwelling place at the center.

In those days, each tribe had a “personality or special skill.” The Torah says that those of the tribe of Naphtali were free spirits. Those from Gad were better warriors. Members of Zebulun were astute in business. Those from Judah were good leaders.

Are things that different today? Indeed, we are as tribal as ever.

Today, some Jews identify themselves as "secular." Some express their Judaism through social or political action. Others manifest their religion through a passionate connection with Israel. 

Many sit on boards and/or donate money. Others attend religious services. Some focus their Judaism journey on spirituality.

We have Jews who love to study texts. Others soar by listening to, or performing, music.  We are blessed by tribes who come from a diverse range of orientations.

There are Orthodox Jews, Conservative Jews, Reform Jews, Reconstructionist Jews, Renewal Jews, JuBus and many more.

And recently, a new tribe has emerged. They are known as the Tribe of Zoom. You may be a member of this tribe.

Members of the Tribe of Zoom do not want to sit in pews or get dressed up for services. Many want a shorter, but more meaningful, experience. They increasingly want to embrace community, study, prayer and spirituality through a medium that has become so much a part of us the computer. 

And, with the birth of the Tribe of Zoom, amidst all of the pain and anxiety caused by the pandemic, Judaism is enjoying a virtual explosion in the number of synagogue attendees, participants in classes and even shiva minyans. After this pandemic is over, can you picture a world without this tribe?

Each year, through the streets of Manhattan, Jews gather for the annual Israel parade. It is a diverse collection.

In the past, so many of the participants would find reason to disagree. Orthodox versus Conservative versus Reform. Some of these denominations were born as a rejection of the other. It is encouraging that more and more, more “tribes” have been combining forces, to embrace their common love of Judaism and Israel. 

And every year, as the different synagogues, movements, youth groups, summer camps and social clubs line up on Fifth Avenue, I am reminded of this week’s Torah portion.

As you can see from CTI’s banner in a recent Israel parade, we are all marching in the same direction as in Biblical times under our respective flags.

Wandering Jews, dancing Jews, observant Jews, secular Jews, searching Jews, agnostic Jews, High Holiday Jews, questioning Jews. Does it really matter?

As this week’s Torah portion teaches us, we are all counted as Jews through our connection with God, with Torah, with each other and the world as we journey through Bamidbar, our respective wilderness.

Each tribe in its own way embraces kindness, caring, compassion and the pursuit of meaning. Be proud of that connection, as we even embrace and seek explanations for the things we do not know.  

This week, the Torah reminds us that each of us counts each of us is unique, special – and that we exist within a medley of tribes, which, when combined, make us all stronger. There even exists the potential to welcome new tribes and additional ways to embrace Judaism.

Within every wilderness, there exists potential.

And through these tribes, both new and old, we possess the ability to achieve our destiny, our potential – as individuals, and as a people – together.

Shabbat shalom, v’kol tuv.

Rabbi Irwin Huberman


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