This portion (Bamidbar/Numbers 16:1 – 18:32) highlights a wilderness leadership challenge, led by Moses’ cousin Korach. Some of its power comes from the community dealing with God’s pronouncement in the previous portion (Shelach):
“But your carcasses shall drop in this wilderness, while your children roam the wilderness for forty years, suffering for your faithlessness, until the last of your carcasses is down in the wilderness.” — Bamidbar/Numbers 14:32-33
Alicia Ostriker’s essay, “The Nursing Father” — an extraordinary exploration of Moses’ life and death — ends with poetic lines that I associate with this juncture in the wilderness story.
We wander the wilderness. Can we ever remember a time when
it was not so? Always a remnant recounts the story,
The promised land really exists, it really doesn’t, are we
there yet. Borders unspecfified, we will know when we’ve
arrived. Profusely fertile, agriculturally a heartland;
An impossible place, let freedom ring in it. We’ve been to
the mountain. We’ve seen the land: A terrain of the
imagination, its hills skipping for joy. How long, we say,
we know our failure in advance, nobody alive will set foot in it.”
Part of that essay, including the closing poem is available via Google books, and you can probably find a copy of the book at your local or congregational library. You can also read an excerpt in Lifecycles Volume 2, which is a great resources in its own right.
But I strongly recommend purchasing a copy or two of Nakedness of the Fathers — give one to a friend/library — to keep as a warm and challenging companion in reading the Torah and later books in the Tanach/Bible. This is not the sort of book you’ll want to read once; it’s the kind you want to keep.
You can get new copies via Alicia Ostriker’s website. You can get used copies via Abebooks.
I was fortunate to study with Alicia Ostriker at the now-defunct Institute for Contemporary Midrash one summer. I recommend any of their publications that are still available, and I recommend jumping at any chance to learn with this teacher/writer.
The “Opening the Book” series was originally presented in cooperation with the independent, cross-community Jewish Study Center and with Kol Isha, an open group that for many years pursued spirituality from a woman’s perspective at Temple Micah (Reform). “A Song Every Day” is an independent blog, however, and all views, mistakes, etc. are the author’s.