I don’t know. One of life’s most touching and powerful phrases. Do we say it enough? Because when we don’t know – and we humbly accept that we don’t know – new worlds open for us. New vistas, new horizons, new possibilities. In the world of I don’t know there are boundless possibilities. In the world of I know, there is only one. I know is a confined space, a box. I don’t know is a vast universe ready to be filled.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Knowing is very important for us human beings. It gives us solid ground to stand on, stability. It gives us focus and direction. It paves a path for achievement and development. It’s great to know. But it’s also limiting. Maybe in a good way – but limiting, nevertheless. I would not want to be God, knowing everything. Because in knowing everything, there is nothing left to know; nothing left to find out; no space to grow into. In a funny way, that’s an advantage we human beings have over God. God has nothing to aspire to. Not that I get to choose, but I’m not sure I would want that.
And yet, paradoxically, as wonderful as it is not to know, growth is about coming to know. But here’s the good news. As much as any single one of us can know, Knowledge itself is always so much greater. The Wisdom that is God, that formless infinitely deep pool of insight and understanding, is limitless. Whatever any of us comes to know in our lifetime is the tiniest tip of a vast iceberg. In a clearly designed parallel, our Universe reflects this. Getting to the moon is one of humanity’s greatest achievements. And yet, the distance from the earth to the moon is, by present understanding, around .000000000000000025 of the known Universe. That ‘giant leap’ for mankind was only a very slight shimmy into our vast cosmos.
Wisdom is the same. The very wisest of human beings has taken a similarly slight shimmy into the vast universe of true Wisdom. And the very wisest of human beings knows that better than anyone.
This week’s portion, indeed the entire book we are about to read, is known as Numbers in English. But in Hebrew it is Bamidbar, ‘In the desert’. The Rabbis highlight this for us – the Torah was given in a desert – and an entire book of the Torah was named such to remind us. Because it is only the person who realises that he or she is a desert, knowing nothing, that will ultimately find true wisdom. When we know, or think we know, learning is impossible. Only when we see ourselves as empty vessels, ready to be filled, will we open our hearts to the divine Wisdom that is waiting to fill them.
The only thing that ever gets in the way of wisdom is ego. The certainty that we already know. The humility of I don’t know is the greatest gift for a human beings on the journey to enlightenment. Like a desert, the one who does not know has plenty of space to build in. The one who already knows is like Manhattan – let’s see you squeeze a new building, even a small one, into there!
Parsha in a Nutshell
This portion contains the census of the Jewish people –600,000 men of army age, around 2.5 million souls in all. It also describes the passing of spiritual leadership from firstborn to Levite. The firstborn lost their position as a result of their involvement with the Golden Calf – now the formal transfer of power occurs.