‘Tis the season of graduation ceremonies. For some, they are insufferably long, hours and hours of waiting to snap that one fuzzy picture of that one special person among hundreds or thousands that you came for. Does everyone really need their name called? Can’t we cut to the chase here?
A similar feeling of futility might fill you as you read Bamidbar 7. Do we really need all this repetition, everyone asks? Are we going to go through that whole list again?
In both cases, the frustration is a question of perspective taking. Prince #8 wasn’t bored by his own gift- for him, it was the moment he had been waiting for. He wouldn’t give up on it for the world. For Prince #2, though, it already seemed rather redundant. At graduation, no one would want their own loved one’s moment cut short. Just those of all those other guys.
But to the other guy, YOU are the other guy, as Rabbi Hanoch Teller puts it. The ability to honor that is an essential part of creating a community. Ideally, every member of a community would feel genuine joy at the joy of another. But even when that’s not possible, the most minimal requirement of community building is the willingness of each member to suffer boredom so another can celebrate. If you’re not willing to do that, you don’t have a community. You have a large group of very fidgety individuals.
As the Jewish people ready their camp, this is the lesson we learn from the longest, most repetitive, most boring chapter in the Torah. So take a deep breath, sit back, and savor your boredom. Your community depends on it.