Parshat Bamidbar: Coming to our Census (especially in the desert)

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Diamond in Sand
29 May 2008
Arts & Media

Skin blistered, ignorance bliss

Throat parched, humor dry

Eyes tearing, heart torn

Feet dragging, mind drugged

Lips chapped, nerves charred


Reach out with bloodied hands

For that self-aggrandized image

Blown-up like a surveillance shot

Only to realize that it’s a mirage

Fading with every step taken closer

To nothing dressed in cellophane


(Things blown-up always seem to explode)


Read the fading sign in neon diner letters:

Wel ome to the Wilder es  & Des rt


(“Don’t worry,” they tell you. “Letters can always be replaced.”)


The Wilderness, where we convince ourselves

That everything in life is a wildflower and

Gardeners don’t exist at all and neither do gardens,

Where wildfires are all the rage and we love

Every sizzling lick its forked tongue bestows, every

Flaming cackle of its burning dispassion. Wild-

Fire: the coldest, most heartless fire known to fuel,

Colder yet for it really should be hot, warm



The Desert, where when we look at a body we

Don’t see a soul, look at a challenge and not

See a solution, listen politely to a question and

Not hear a plea, touch purity and still not feel



Here we are, after Eden & Genesis, after

Egypt & Exodus, even after Mt. Sinai and

What Greek and Latin translate as Leviticus

But what Hebrew knows as coming close,

When He called to Moshe…


After all we’ve gone through, still here we are

In the Wilderness, the Desert, wild, deserted




How to breathe in an asphyxiated world?

How to touch life in a place that’s dead?

How to remain focused in a wilderness?


Take a census of the

Entire congregation of

The Children of Israel


Come to our census

(And consensus):

Take the sum, the sum of the



Count each individual, the quantity

And they shall become the quality


Counting diamonds:

Each one of us a priceless diamond, a clear soul,

Counted because each one of us counts, matters most,

And when we realize we are diamonds, even the thickest

Blackest rough cannot hide our glimmer, glitter, radiance

Brilliance –


Even the most depressing wilderness cannot depress us


We may be a diamond in the rough, a body in a soul

But when the diamond is realized, polished

Even the rough begins to shine


We have opened another book, in the desert,

The Talmud calls it the book of “counting”

(You don’t want to cook these books, believe

Me, but you may want to gobble them up)

An account book, where every detail is tallied

For every detail, every individual helps us get

From where we are to where we are going to be.


Up ahead in the not-so-distance read the sign in vibrant

Holy letters –


Welcome to the Promised Land

Mendel Jacobson is a writer, poet and journalist living in Brooklyn. His weekly poetry can be seen at

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.