This week’s Torah portion, bamidbar (Numbers 1:1-4:20), is the first Torah reading in a book of the same name (referred to in English as Numbers). The word bamidbar (במדבר) means “In the wilderness”.
Wilderness is the backdrop of most of the Torah. It is where all the drama of the people of Israel as a people, as opposed to a family, takes place. And it unfolds in the space of 40 years, after which, supposedly, our forefathers crossed the Jordan river and entered the Promised Land.
The Torah portion of this week, ki tisa, (Exodus 30:11 – 34:35) continues with the theme of the construction of the Tabernacle. But it also contains one of the most potent stories of the book of Exodus: the story of the golden calf.
In a nutshell: after the people of Israel received, collectively, a revelation of God’s voice, including the Ten Commandments, they signed on the dotted line by famously declaring na’aseh ve-nishma’ (נעשה ונשמע) “We will do and listen” (Exodus 24:7). The midrash takes these words to signify their complete trust, since the word na’aseh, “we will do”, preceded the word nishma’, “we will listen”: they committed themselves to obey the Torah even before they heard it fully. (more…)