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    Finding my place – B’midbar

    Holbein's Tribes of Israel, 16th century

    The Israelite camp was systematically divided into tribes, then sub-divided into families which in turn were further sub-divided into fathers’ houses.

    In the Book of Joshua (7:15) these levels of identity were set out clearly in a passage which deals with finding a sinner: “In the morning you shall be brought near by your tribes; the tribe which the Lord shall indicate shall come near by families; the family which the Lord shall indicate shall come near by households; and the household which the Lord shall indicate shall come near by individuals”.

    A midrashic source (Pir’kei d’Rabbi Eliezer 38) suggests that God used the Urim and Tummim to indicate a group or individual.

    It is interesting to see how identity is narrowed down from the larger to the smaller group and from the group to the individual.

    There is an important lesson we can learn from this approach: we tend to hide behind the crowd – sometimes quite appropriately – but not if it comes at the cost of avoiding personal responsibility. We look for others to blame when something goes wrong.

    Eventually, if we are honest and fair, we come to the conclusion that was reached by Elazar ben Durdaya, who, after blaming his problems on the sun, moon and stars, finally conceded, “Things are because of me myself” (Y’vamot 78b, Avodah Zarah 17a).

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