Parashat B'midbar

A Map Of Pluralism

The arrangement of the Israelites around the Tabernacle, as individuals and as a community, provides us with a model for pluralism.

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This creative dialectic between individual and community works in both ways: not only does the individual have to find their own "flag" within the larger Jewish tradition, but we must also recognize that the Jewish community is not complete, as it were, unless people are finding their own, comfortable place within it.

Judaism is not "one size fits all!" One person may become zealously observant of ritual practices, another person may devote all her energy to Judaism's vision of social justice, a third may find that studying sacred texts is the proper "flag" for his living Judaism.

As our commentary points out, it is only when each person finds their own "flag," or personal mission within the broader Jewish framework, that the Jewish people as a whole can find its "perfection," or ultimate potential.

The visual metaphor of the Book of Numbers is striking: Each person finds his or her place in a particular camp, and the camps find proper the relationship to each other--and only then can the entire people move forward, with the Presence of God "dwelling" in the middle.

I'd even like to propose Parshat B'midbar as a model for true Jewish pluralism: each individual finding his or her unique mission within the broadest Jewish framework, organized with like-minded people into sacred organizations, and each person and each community seen as a necessary, equal component of the whole. Only when we see that different people and different communities have their own sacred purpose can we move together on our journey.

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Rabbi Neal J. Loevinger

Rabbi Neal Joseph Loevinger is currently the rabbi of Temple Beth-El in Poughkeepsie, NY. A former student at Kolel, he served as Kolel's Director of Outreach from late 1999-2001. He was ordained in the first graduating class of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies of the University of Judaism, and holds a Master's of Environmental Studies from York University in Toronto.