Shabbat-Table Talks: Bemidbar

To read last year's Table Talk  click here.


By: Rabbi Ralph Tawil <>

Value: Organization and Order. One of the skills of successful people is an ability to be organized and to keep things in order. Putting things in their place saves much time and aggravation and leads to a more efficient life. Imagine what your local library would look like if it were not for a system of putting things in order. This applies as well to your own books, clothing, paper and other things. Teaching our children to put things in their places and to be organized is an important step in teaching them to classify things as important or unimportant. It can also make for more considerate and tidy living.


Background: This Shabbat we begin to read the fourth book of the Torah, Bemidbar. This book recounts the time that Israel was in the wilderness. Originally, the plan was that Israel would travel only a few days from Mount Sinai to the land of Canaan and conquer the land. They ended up spending forty years in the wilderness instead. Bemidbar begins with God’s command to count the people and to arrange them in an orderly way around the Mishkan. The Torah used many verses to describe the way Israel was counted and ordered around the Mishkan. From this we can see that the organization and order of Israel was important to the Torah.


Text: Bemidbar 2:1-3

The Lord spoke to Moshe and to Aharon, saying:

Each-one by its contingent, under the insignias of their Father’s House, shall the Children of Israel encamp, at-a-distance, around the Tent of the appointment, shall they encamp.


Those encamping eastward, toward sunrise: the contingent of the camp of Yehuda, according to their forces….


Analysis: This was not a ragtag mob of people traveling through the wilderness. Rather, this was an ordered nation, arrayed around a central structure that signifies God’s presence in their midst (the Mishkan), marching towards a destination (the Promised Land.) Order and organization show a degree of self-respect. Hashem, by commanding Israel to march in an ordered and organized way, was teaching Israel to respect themselves as a nation by being organized. We can apply this idea to many different areas of our lives.


Discussion: Why do you think it was important for the tribes to march and to camp in a certain order? (Order allows for communication that is more efficient and more organized traveling. Not to mention the greater ease of finding specific people of different tribes. In addition, when there is an agreed upon order, everyone knows their place and there are fewer disputes about what area belongs to whom. Coordination leads to less fighting. Everyone knows where he belongs, so no one tries to take another’s portion. Many disputes between countries center around territories that two countries claim as their own.)


What is the difference between a stampede and a march? Have you ever seen a parade? Why do people march in order and in uniform?


Why should we keep our things and the things that we share with others in their places?

Orderliness shows self-respect when it is done with your own possessions, and consideration for others when it is done with commonly shared things. (It is a good idea to return the books of the Bet Midrash or synagogue to their places. This makes it easier for the next person to find and benefit from the books.)


“Everything in its place and a place for every thing.” This is one easy slogan to remember when trying to organize. Putting things in their place saves time energy and prevents frustration. If a thing does not have a place, make a place for it and share that new fact with the others who will be using the thing. (For example, if you share keys, “From now on the place for the car keys is in the top drawer.”)


Skills and activities—get organized.

There are some activities to do with young children (ages 4-6) to teach them about organization (not recommended for Shabbat).


Classifying things as important and filing them in their place for easy access.

Junk day—what things can you throw out? Every so often get a garbage bag and just throw away those things that you really do not need. 

(Source: Dorothy Rich, Megaskills, pp. 88-90)


Organizing Space/Organizing Time

Where I live in Israel there is a movement called “megirot,” which means “drawers.” In this movement, people get together on a weekly basis and discuss how they were able to clean their drawers and house more efficiently. The premise is that when their drawers, houses and lives are more organized, it frees their minds to think about things that are more spiritual. Since organizing can lead to a more spiritual life, then the process itself is a step toward the spiritual.


Organize time - Just as we organize our space, we should organize our time. Making a schedule that takes into account your priorities and urgent activities is a good habit to learn. What are your priorities? When will you schedule them?

Remember: Although organization and order are important, it is healthy to allow a certain degree of mess during the process of playing, learning, creating etc. Organizing and ordering are what we do afterwards. I am sure, the greatest artists and sculptors made messes and got themselves dirty while they worked. Don’t let order and organization stifle creativity and learning.

To read last year's Table Talk click here.


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