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                                         Torah Talk

 

 

BUILDING COMMUNITY

There's a lot of counting and measuring, distributing of land and tallying of distance and people in Masei, the last chapter in Bemidbar, the Book of Numbers, which makes sense when you think about it. After 40 years wandering from campsite to campsite, from springs to date palms, from wilderness to desert and back again, the Israelites who went forth from Egypt are about to reach their destination.

 

Here in Masei, God gives Moses detailed boundaries that lay out exactly where the Israelites will live when they actually arrive in the Land. Each of the 12 tribes are assigned hefty chunks of land. One tribe, however is left out of the plans, and that's the Levites. The Levites are teachers, judges, construction workers: they are an urban bunch. They are more comfortable amidst the buzz of the crowds on a street than the fields of a farm. God wants them to focus on studying and learning and the work of the Temple, and doesn't want to burden them with land ownership.

 

City planners have always believed that people's well-being, and the harmony of communities are deeply affected by their physical environments. So, instead of giving the Levites a chunk of land, God asks each tribe to give four cities within each of its states to the Levites. There, the Levites will live the urban life, rent free, while the other tribe leaders get the satisfaction of doing a kind and generous act for an honored group. The Levites are to be the ultimate role models for this new nation, respected and looked to for advice. They are supposed to teach and set the tone of good living through good ethics and wisdom.

 

The Torah insists that, as teachers, the Levites be treated as serious VIPs. And this is when the real city planning kicks in. Each of the 48 Levite cities are models of great design, spirituality, and urban harmony. These are places where one might easily run into neighbors on the street hear the latest news, shop, go to school, study...all within easy walking distance. In other words, a utopian community.

 

Even when you don't pay rent in physical money, you still have to hold up your end of the bargain. If the rest of the tribes are to look up to the Levites, then the Levites have to continue to be worthy of being looked up to.  In order for us to create a kehillah kedosha – a holy community – we all have to live up to our responsibility – we all have to do our part.  A good lesson for the Israelites as they were about to enter the Promised Land, and a good lesson for us today.

 

~Rabbi Shana Nyer, based on the Bim Bam video by Jill Slater

Tue, July 25 2017 2 Av 5777