By Rabbi Thomas Louchheim

Saturday, May 11, 2013

God’s Found in Your Open Heart

34th   Torah portion, 1st in Numbers

B’midbar 1:1-4:20 (159 verses)


God commands Moses to take a census of all the Israelite males over the age of twenty. The duties of the Levites, who are not included in the census, are detailed. Each tribe is assigned specific places in the camp around the Tabernacle. The sons of Levi are counted and their responsibilities are set forth. A census of the first-born males is taken and a special redemption tax is levied on them.


This portion describes in great detail the Tabernacle, the Levites’ responsibilities in taking care of the vessels of the sanctuary, the table, ark, lamp, and altar, and finally, the exact placement of each tribe around the camp. Nachmanides (1194-1270, Spain) describes the transfer of God’s presence from Sinai to the Tabernacle in the desert. According to him, the tablets of the Commandments enable the aron (“ark of the Covenant”) to house God’s presence inside of the Mishkan (“Tabernacle”). Rabbi Judah Halevi sees a spiritual connection between the Tabernacle and a heightened state of our consciousness.

Nachmanides, in his introduction to the Book of Numbers, makes an interesting connection between the Tabernacle and Mount Sinai. According to Nachmanides, the Tabernacle, which moved in the midst of the camp, was a kind of Mount Sinai on which the Torah was given, accompanying the Israelites on all their journeying. God’s presence has been transferred from Sinai to the Tabernacle, from the sanctuary established by Adonai to the sanctuary that Israel has made.

Rabbi Judah Halevi explains in his Kuzari (II 26): “The camp and its divisions are to be compared to the body and its constituent limbs, the Tabernacle being to the camp what the heart is to the body.” The sacred vessels within the Tabernacle (table, ark, lamp, etc.) represent our “inner limbs.”

Therefore, the spark of divinity has been placed in our hearts (Genesis Rabba). It activates our “inner” workings and our outer limbs. When we open our heart to God, we are open to compassion, kindness, integrity, and generosity. It is through these virtues we do God’s work in the world. When we shut off the heart, this leads to the debilitation of heart disease—the plaque that accumulates from the ego of personal desires.



  1. Are you leading a purposeful life? Why do you think that is?
  2. When you live openhearted, what are you doing in your world?
  3. How does the above commentary help you think about yourself differently?


In the Birkot HaShachar, the Morning Blessings, recited daily, there is a blessing that says, Blessed is the Eternal our God, who crowns Israel with splendor. Imagine for the next four days you wake up and believe it. Why four days? Give it a rest on Shabbat!

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