Numbers: The Wilderness Years
Covenant & Conversation: A Weekly Reading of the Jewish Bible
This collection makes Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ brilliant essays on the weekly Torah portion available in book form for the first time. Rabbi Sacks fuses Jewish tradition, Western philosophy and literature to present a highly developed understanding of the human condition under God’s sovereignty. This fourth volume in the five-volume series includes several concise essays for each portion of Numbers.
The book of Numbers – in Hebrew, Bamidbar, “In the Wilderness” – is a key text for our time. It is among the most searching, self-critical books in all of literature about what Nelson Mandela called “the long walk to freedom.” Its message is that there is no shortcut to liberty. Numbers is not an easy book to read, nor is it an optimistic one. It is a sober warning set in the midst of a text – the Hebrew Bible – that remains the West’s master narrative of hope.
The Mosaic books, especially Exodus and Numbers, are about the journey from slavery to freedom and from oppression to law-governed liberty. On the map, the distance from Egypt to the Promised Land is not far. But the message of Numbers is that it always takes longer than you think. For the journey is not just physical, a walk across the desert. It is psychological, moral, spiritual. It takes as long as the time needed for human beings to change… You cannot arrive at freedom merely by escaping from slavery. It is won only when a nation takes upon itself the responsibilities of self-restraint, courage and patience. Without that, a journey of a few hundred miles can take forty years. Even then, it has only just begun.