This portion recalls the journeys of the children of Israel since their Exodus from Egypt under the guidance of the Creator: “Moses recorded their starting points for their journeys (massei) according to the word of the Lord, and these were their journeys with their starting points.” (Numbers 33:2). We have said that life itself is a journey in which we have many turning points. Our Sages teach: “Know from where you came, where you are going, and before whom you are destined to give a judgment [discernment] and accounting [to account for].” (Pirkei Avot 3:1). This is to be aware that we, as well as all Creation, come from God’s love. This includes our Essence and identity that are destined to guide us in His ways. Hence, with love we discern life and the material world because to love we are accounted for.
In the journeys of life we follow the words and deeds of love’s ways and attributes as the starting points to discern ego’s fantasies and illusions in which we stumble, fall and must get up to continue learning God’s ways. These are the illusions we have to clear from all levels and dimensions of consciousness in order to live in the Promised Land, which is life in the goodness of God’s ways and attributes: “You shall clear out the Land and settle in it, for I have given you the Land to occupy it.” (Numbers 33:53). We are also reminded earlier: “And let the Land not vomit you out for having defiled it, as it vomited out the nation that preceded you.” (Leviticus 18:28, 20:22).
God’s love does not dwell with anything different from His attributes. This is the most important principle we have to be mindful about in the choices we make every moment. We have to understand that “expulsion” not from God’s love but as the consequence of following ego’s materialistic fantasies, and not His ways. If we choose to live with love as our true identity, as the Promised Land where we all yearn to live as our Divine inheritance, we have to be worthy of love’s ways.
We are also reminded that our highest awareness of the Creator (the Levite priesthood) has to lead, guard and protect our connection with Him: “Command the children of Israel that they shall give to the Levites from their hereditary possession cities in which to dwell, and you shall give the Levites open spaces around the cities.” (Numbers 35:2), for every essential aspect of consciousness (the children of Israel) must be guided under this highest awareness capable of redeeming and redirecting our life when we transgress God’s ways.
This is the meaning of the cities of refuge (lit. absorption), the place in consciousness where we atone (transform) for our transgressions against what God calls sacred. This is why the cities of refuge are related to the unintentional murderer, the one who desecrates life by ending it. Again life, and human life in particular, is remarked as the most important manifestation of God’s Creation, to the point that it is defined as image and likeness of the Creator. In this context, life and God’s love are closely related because His love is the source of life.
The haftarah for this portion reiterates love as the primordial likeness between the Creator and us, as His Creation, and denounces the materialistic illusions that separate us from Him: “So says the Lord: What wrong did your forefathers find in Me, that they distanced themselves from Me, and they went after futility and themselves became futile?” (Jeremiah 2:5), because in ego’s illusions we live in futility and become futile, as the idols that we follow and in which we become: “Because My people have committed two evils; they have forsaken Me, the spring of living waters, to dig for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that do not hold water.” (2:13).
Again we are reminded that goodness awaits us when we make the choice to return to God’s ways and attributes: “If you return, O Israel, says the Lord, to Me, you shall return, and if you remove your detestable things from My Presence, you shall not wander. And you will swear, ‘As the Lord lives,’ in truth and in justice and in righteousness, nations will bless themselves with Him and boast about Him.” (4:1-2)
Our Sages reaffirm the words of the Prophet: “The world stands on three things: Torah, the service of God, and acts of kindness.” (Pirkei Avot 1:2) and they also say that “By three things is the world sustained: Torah, truth and peace.” (1:18). These traits and qualities are all inherent to God’s love, and they are intertwined as love’s ways and attributes that shape our Essence and identity.