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Toward Shabbat: Bemidbar

This week, in honor of our Teen Shabbat, Toward Shabbat was written by Teen Tzedek Coordinator Eliza Anker.

It’s May of senior year and I feel stuck.

I’m stuck between caring and not feeling motivated. I care about my grades. I always have. But I’ve already been accepted to college—do I really need to work carefully on each of my assignments and turn them in on time?

I’m stuck between knowing and uncertainty. I feel ready to leave home but, at the same time, I’m afraid of what I am not prepared for. I thought I could just get accepted, go to college, and finally be free. I didn’t expect to feel so unprepared: The housing application. How am I going to live with a stranger? The four-hour virtual orientation. The placement exams. I thought I knew what to expect.

I’m stuck between working hard and having fun. I have argued with myself about my work-life balance. I think everyone knows what that is like. The procrastination. The “I’ll do it tomorrow.” Shouldn’t I get to spend my Saturday nights with my friends instead of studying for AP tests I don’t even need the credit for?

I’m stuck in transition.

This week’s parashah, Bemidbar, is all about transition. The Israelites have been freed from Egypt and are struggling. They are wandering in the desert unsure of how to manage their freedom. They too are stuck. They are lost and unsure of what to do with themselves.

I’ve been ready to leave New York for almost two years now but, just like the Israelites who want to leave slavery but are scared of freedom, I, too, am scared. I’m leaving for college. The in-between time is both tiring and scary. I struggle to know what I should be doing with my time.

This week, I find myself leaning in and listening to the words of our parashah with new attention.  And here is what I have learned—While the Israelites were wandering in the desert, they utilized the time to discover who they truly are. God tells Moses:

שְׂאוּ אֶת־רֹאשׁ כׇּל־עֲדַת בְּנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵל לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָם לְבֵית אֲבֹתָם בְּמִסְפַּר שֵׁמוֹת כׇּל־זָכָר לְגֻלְגְּלֹתָם׃

Take a total count of the whole Israelite community according to their families, according to their father’s house, listing the names, every male, head by head (Bemidbar 1:2).

And so Moses counted. The act of taking a census and organizing into family groups helped the Israelites begin to create an identity for themselves. They were given the time to wander. This parashah teaches that transition can be a time of opportunity.

The Torah doesn’t exactly define how to use the in-between time well. But to me, it means to utilize freedom. While in the desert, the Israelites were handed the Torah from God. They were able to use the time after they received it to reflect and learn from the Torah’s teachings. For me, the most central opportunity my transition has and will provide is time to reflect on what I’ve learned as a part of the teen community at BJ and what I will carry forward with me into this time of uncertainty. Yearly learning and service trips, like meeting with an ICE agent in Arizona when I was in 9th grade and living in unfamiliar conditions in the Dominican Republic earlier this year, taught me how to be okay with discomfort and to better understand others’ perspectives. Hitoreri, our monthly Teen Kabbalat Shabbat service, taught me how to be approachable and to approach people from other grades that I had never met before and wouldn’t have known how to connect with in other settings. The BJ Teen Executive Board taught me how to be a leader and to take action on things I care about, like climate change and the New York City homelessness crisis.

The “Torah” I’ve gained and learned from my experiences with BJ Teens has been central to my development into the person I am today. The time I’ve been given to reflect on these past four years is perhaps the chance to become unstuck. It might allow me to become more sure of my path forward. Just like the Israelites in the desert, counting my blessings gives me purpose and a deeper sense of self.