When I go to my synagogue for services, I always sit in the same place: left side of the pulpit, second row, first seat. One Shabbat morning, I sat down and found that the legs of the chair in my usual spot were uneven, and the chair moved back and forth as I shifted my weight. It was quite uncomfortable, but it was my place and I sat in it. I’m not the only one who does this. Many people have “their seats” in their house of worship, and if they find someone else sitting in their place, they can get pretty upset.
This week’s Torah portion, Bamidbar, (Number 1:1 – 4:20) begins with a census of the Israelites. The second thing that God requires of the Israelites is that they find their place. God tells Moses where each tribe shall place their encampment around the Tabernacle, and when they move, they will march in the same order so that when they come to their next stop, they are in place to encamp in the same order once again.
In the Etz Chaim commentary to the Torah, Rabbi Harold Kushner notes that “the details of tribal encampments are a way of emphasizing the need for order and organization in achieving a spiritual life.” The Israelites, not long away from the chaos of slavery and the exodus, are finally given their own place. Maybe our own needs are not so different from theirs.