Nelly Shulman
Nelly Shulman

Mapping the space

This week’s Torah portion speaks not only about the census of the children of Israel but also about the spatial organization of their encampment. The relationships between numbers, objects, and space they occupy are incredibly complex and interesting. In his commentary on Numbers 2;2 Tur HaAroch writes,

I have seen further in the Midrash that just as Hashem created 4 directions on earth, (north, south, west, and east) so He surrounded His throne in the heavens with four such directions, the throne of His glory being the loftiest of them all. When telling Moses how to arrange the army groups around the Tabernacle, He told him that what He was directing Moses to do. This corresponded to the pattern in which the hierarchies in the heavenly regions were arranged.

There is no single mathematical definition of space since mathematics deals with many types of them. However, we might say that space consists of selected mathematical objects that are treated as points and selected relationships between these points. It is the relationships that define the nature of the space. 

In this week’s portion, God’s mapping of the space of the traveling camp reflects the organizational pattern of the Universe, It also sets the nature of the future relationships between the tribes of Israel.

Nowadays, we map the space mainly ourselves, It would be a good thing to remember that the space we build around us is based on our attitude to ourselves and our neighbors. The land is given to us by God but only the people and their connections make it the livable space.

About the Author
Nelly Shulman is a journalist and writer currently based in Berlin. She is an author of four popular historical novels in the Russian language. She is working on the fifth novel in this series and on her first English-language novel, a historical thriller set during the Siege of Leningrad. She a Hawthornden Fellow and an alumna of the Nachum Goldmann Fellowship.
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