Numbers and Wilderness – do they have anything to do with one another? My son recently told me he was “very, very, very, very, very, very, very hungry” That’s seven veries, I counted, because Numbers matter. Math and science speak to us in the language of Numbers, and Numbers is the name of this past week’s Torah portion. But it’s also named “In the Wilderness”, With quantities and equations we can understand both ordinary and extraordinary phenomena of our universe. Equations like E = mc squared, give us insight to this wild universe. But technology has used numbers to mechanize our piece of the universe, and, perhaps, to dehumanize each other. Numbers names this portion, because the Israelites take a count of themselves, well, not all, just men of fighting age. This evokes some troubling images: the names on the Vietnam memorial wall, the numbers of the draft, the numbers on the evening news of the wounded and dead and captured of today’s warriors. It also separates those who are counted from those not counted. And we are told Abraham’s descendents would be as the stars: too numerous to count But we do count: check out the population clock http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/
7.1 billion and counting on this precious planet. What are the implications of an ever more crowded world? Do we devalue people in the crowd as being in our way? Will there be enough resources for us all? Can we value the tiny lives born into poverty around the world as much as they deserve? And many move out of rural areas into megalopolises, where there is little of the wilderness, and less humanity. And we live mechanized lives in polluted areas. Out of touch with nature our souls are impoverished. Albert Einstein, composer of the equation above was devastated to think that the numbers and the science he loved were being misused to threaten the natural world and people he loved. This clip from a wonderful PBS video on the scientist’s views – check it out here at about 3 minutes in: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dB6_0pcUfBc&list=PLK1jVke6c4kZttMPXE9IPeVqxu2hh8bur
Wilderness served as a crucible for the Israelites, a place they find Heaven meeting earth and themselves.
So perhaps numbers threatens wildness, and the best things are beyond counting? what do you think?
I think this song “Seasons of Love,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lmlj2JF5yLk has the best advice for what counting’s best.
I had this running joke going with my Grandma, all we had to say was “how many legs does a chair have?” and we’d laugh. You see once, when helping her to buy those little pads for the feet of a chair, she insisted we must buy multiples of three, because in her imagination, for that moment chairs had three legs. She didn’t realize her error until asked “and how many legs does a chair have?” And the whole world rests on three things, says tradition -truth, justice and peace. Or maybe just one thing? – the whole world is sustained by the breath of children! (Talmud) Numbers matter, each child counts!