reflection by Genevieve Greinetz, rabbinic intern
It is amazing how much depth we can glean when we sit with one seemingly small detail that arises in meditation. During a recent three-week retreat, I sat with the miniscule details of indecision. My usual indecision was wildly magnified to the point where deciding what to eat for breakfast was.. devastatingly overwhelming. You know the elevated, even chaotic sensitivity that arises in retreat—you might find yourself crying because the steam hovering over your coffee is astounding. I found myself having a nervous freak out encountering the treacherous decision between eggs & oatmeal.
As I sat in the hall later that day, indecision arose again. Would I go to yoga or take a walk?! I started to wonder what to do and then paused and decided this was it—time to face indecision itself. So, I sat with it. In that tension I found pain and sorrow and all sorts of things that needed to be seen, so sincerely. I joked in a one-on-one that I felt like Ama, the hugging saint; all these stories and emotions waited in line to present themselves to me and I embraced them and greeted them with love, like she does for her students.
That is what this parsha is about. Bemidbar is about getting into details and greeting the faces of everyone in your camp. It begins, “You and Aaron shall record them by their groups, from the age of twenty years up, all those in Israel who are able to bear arms. Associated with you shall be a person from each tribe, each one the head of their ancestral house.” (1:3) What follows is a list of every tribe-head’s name, and following that is a list of the number of every person in their house.
In practice, we call this, “name it to tame it.” The guided meditation where you notice planning mind, you notice story mind, past mind, future mind – and you name it; take a census of all the members of your “camp.”
After this, Gd offers detailed instructions for where each ancestral house will set up camp in relation to the Mishkan. Every house has a specific direction in which they will sit.
Once we name the aspects and ancestry of our mind, we order and place them around the holy gathering space of awareness. Then, we can visit the camps and get to know who is there and what their stories are. Every thought has its right place around the Mishkan, each with an ancestry of its own that will bring you more near to the source.
Bemidbar is an invitation to find out who is in your camp; to see the myriad ancestral houses—name them, count them, and arrange them around your inner holiness; to take a loving census – enjoy!