In two weeks, my older sister will basically be my neighbor. Okay, that’s not exactly true — Jersey City is not next door to Brooklyn. Nevertheless, it’s a heck of a lot closer than Chicago, where she’s been living for the last while. And it’s a whole lot closer than Israel, where the rest of my family lives.
In two weeks, we’re going to be able to see each other on a regular basis. Picture the Shabbat dinners, the family days, the excursions to Central Park or the Museum of Natural History. My kiddo will spend time with my sister. With my family.
To say I’m excited is an understatement. I’m coming out of my skin — I can’t wait for us to be near one another again.
The big move coincides, not by chance, with my folks’ visit from Jerusalem. My little sister (who isn’t little at all — she’s a 29-year-old professional) will join us in early August.
This means that our whole family will be in the same room, at the same time. Very soon. For the first time in five years. It’s a summit, of sorts. All of us siblings together, with the parents who raised us, and our partners, and the littlest of us — the toddler-baby-grandkid-prince(ss) — in the middle of it all. Probably building with LEGOs and Magna-tiles.
Actually, he’ll probably be building a parking garage out of those legos and beep-beeping his cars into it, Brooklyn kiddo that he is.
I’m the middle sister of three, which made this week’s portion almost too easy to connect to. The text may seem to be about a whole host of other things (census-taking, plagues, and divvying up land — to name a few), but to me, it’s all about siblings. The entirety of Numbers 26 is a recapitulation of a family tree we already know, complete with stories we’ve already heard.
In case you’ve forgotten, the Bible tells us, Yocheved and Amram were the parents of Aaron, Miriam and Moses. Also, you should remember that Aaron had four sons, two of which God smote a few chapters ago. The entire saga of Korah and his 250 followers being swallowed up by the earth? We haven’t forgotten that, but it comes back here as well.
Don’t forget the madness that took place in the desert. Hold on to it.
God is designating who will get which part of the Promised Land, but before He does, he needs to make His reasoning very clear. The number of people in each tribe, the transgressions and errors committed during their time in the desert, the virtues each tribe expressed — all of these go into the final calculation of who gets what, and why.
This is, in itself, kind of strange. Why does God owe anyone any explanations? Couldn’t He just decide without deigning to go into any details? Of course He could. Which means, to me, that there’s another meaning here. Actually, there are another two meanings.
The first has to do with fairness. While I don’t necessarily agree with all of God’s justifications, it’s clear that the idea here is to be as fair as possible. A tribe with more people needs more land, after all. A tribe who proved themselves to be virtuous may be more deserving.
Plus, of course, there are the daughters of Tzlofchad — a quintessential tale of Biblical fairness that never fails to amaze me. When these five daughters (siblings!) stand to lose their right to their father’s land, since none of them is male, they stand together, as one, and demand to inherit what should be theirs, by rights. That part is crazy enough. What’s crazier is that they win.
This brings me to the second underlying message, the one that I love more. As the Biblical text regales us with lists of siblings who acted together — Aaron, Miriam, and Moses in the wilderness, Nadav and Avihu at the altar, Korah at the Tent of Meeting, the five daughters of Tzlofchad before Moses — it strikes me that the connection between those who were raised together is truly a singular bond.
There are things about me that no one can understand but my sisters. There are places I’ve been, instincts I have, sensitivities I experience, that my siblings feel innately. There are things I do not need to explain to them. Regardless of the wide variety of these Biblical sibling stories, they all have a togetherness about them. A unification.
As I read these chapters (first the list of the brothers who begat the Tribes of Israel, then the stories of the siblings detailed within) it occurs to me why I am so profoundly glad that my family is coming. Despite the fact that we all, for some reason, seem to revert back into teenagers once we get together (why is that?), the truth is that these are my people. And I can’t wait to squeeze them close to me again.