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  • Writer's pictureLeann Shamash

Bamidbar- In the Desert

Updated: May 23, 2023

Please note that this post comes after Parshat BaMidbar, but before Shavuot.

Let's call it an island between the two!

Parshat Bamidbar starts with a census of the people who are eligible for the army, so the English title for the fourth book of the Torah is Numbers. If, however, one looks at the Hebrew title, one finds the word BaMidbar, which means "in the desert" in the first sentence.

It is while in the desert that Moses has a transformational experience, as does Jacob before him. The Torah is give in the desert and the Hebrews traverse the desert as they transform into a nation. The transformation is so long and so great, that the people who enter the desert are not the people who ultimately leave the desert behind them.

The desert plays a part today in the attempt for immigrants to enter the United States. It is through the desert that immigrants from the south attempt to enter this country. Their travel is dangerous and when they arrive there is no promise that they will find the life they are seeking. Their voyage is different than the Hebrews. There is no manna, water is scarce and quails do not fall from the sky.

This is not a commentary on immigration policy, of walls or policing, nor is it a comment on how to control the influx of immigrants to the United States or how what happens to them when the arrive at the border. It is, however, a short meditation on the desperation of immigrants and the chances they take as they embark through the great desert. Their trek into the darkness and heat of the desert is a long and dangerous. This post is about the long journey of immigrants and what propels them to cross a dangerous desert in order to arrive at these borders.

The Book of Ruth, which we will read this coming week on the holiday of Shavuot puts faces and names on people who cross borders in order to seek food, or a better life. This poem does not speak about Ruth, Naomi or Orpah, but make no mistake, they are present in the desert in 2023. The desert may be different, but the story remains the same.

Wishing all of you a sweet Shavuot as we celebrate receiving the Torah, but it is not such a secret that Torah is available to study 24-7, all year!




The expanse is Unforgiving

The desert dares Seekers

toward a vision

so distant,

but so real,

it is just steps away,

on the other side of a dream.

Behind eyes that have seen too much,

one can almost see

the green grass beckoning,



food and water.


It is a universal dream that life can be better.

Everyone can own hope.

Ruth and Naomi,

How do you take that first step into the unknown?

The desert is a vehicle

where dreams are fractured

scattered silently through hot dreamless nights.

Grant them the strength to traverse this dusty floor

toward the light.

Desperate hands, running feet.

The desert unfolds,

so stingy in what it gives

the hope for liberty measured in miles and danger.

The desert is imprinted with footprint over footprint,

imprinted for but a moment,

then lost in the wind.

The border awaits them.

The end of the journey holds more questions than answers.

Beyond the desert.

Ruth and Naomi, open your eyes.

Dream with eyes open.

You will never realize unless you walk this walk.

If they could but fly on butterfly's wings.

If the desert could answer prayers.

Painting taken from Wikepedia

Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld: Ruth in Boaz's Field, 1828


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