D'vrei Torah by Rabbi Ellie Shemtov
Time Takes Time
Behaviors cultivated over many years are hard to change. In order to transform our lives, it is necessary to overcome what psychologist Dr. Jennifer Kunst calls a misconception – the belief that we need the very thing we are trying to give up. An alcoholic has to overcome the belief that he or she needs a drink and victims of physical abuse need to overcome the belief that they need their abuser.
Even when we know our behavior needs to change we tend to resist that change. As Dr. Kunst writes: the mind is like a rubber band; you can easily stretch it temporarily, but it snaps back to its resting position. We resist change. We like to believe that continuing to do what we’ve always done will keep us safe, while changing our behavior could put us in danger.
In this week’s Torah portion, Bamidbar, the first portion in the book of Numbers, the Israelites are themselves in the midst of a behavioral change. After experiencing the events at Sinai they are now transitioning to the daily routines necessary for wandering through the wilderness. In this week’s portion that means organizing into a military camp as a way to face the dangers they might come upon during their journey.
Later in the Book of Numbers the Israelites will find it more difficult to adapt to the harsh wilderness and loudly state their desire to go back to Egypt:
וְלָמָ֣ה יְ֠יָ֠ מֵבִ֨יא אֹתָ֜נוּ אֶל־הָאָ֤רֶץ הַזֹּאת֙ לִנְפֹּ֣ל בַּחֶ֔רֶב נָשֵׁ֥ינוּ וְטַפֵּ֖נוּ יִהְי֣וּ לָבַ֑ז הֲל֧וֹא ט֦וֹב לָ֖נוּ שׁ֥וּב מִצְרָֽיְמָה: וַיֹּֽאמְר֖וּ אִ֣ישׁ אֶל־אָחִ֑יו נִתְּנָ֥ה רֹ֖אשׁ וְנָשׁ֥וּבָה מִצְרָֽיְמָה:
And why has the Lord brought us to this land, to fall by the sword, that our wives and our children should be a prey? were it not better for us to return into Egypt? And they said one to another, Let us choose a chief, and let us return to Egypt. (Num. 14:3-4)
As the Life Recovery Bible notes: All of us wish that our recovery would involve a dramatic escape from slavery and immediate entrance into the Promised Land. We would love to leave out the wilderness experiences in between. But growth and recovery occur within the wilderness. It is in the wilderness that we come to terms with who we really are.
Even after Sinai and the receiving of the Ten Commandments, the Israelites still struggle to overcome the very thing they are trying to give up—Egypt. But that’s ok because time takes time.