I struggled through A Level mathematics because I liked the simplicity of numbers. My answer was either (occasionally) right or (usually) wrong. And yet, it seems there is one go-to way to make numbers complicated: put them in the hands of humans.
We are a subjective, emotional race, and it seems when we come into contact with something even as empirical as numbers we infect them with our complexity, turning them into subjective, emotion-ridden, experience-influenced opinions. As the results of the EU elections came in, I was struck by how the same numbers were being used to support completely opposing arguments.
This week the Torah (in aptly named portion B’midbar; ‘numbers’) is mainly about numbers as God asks Moses to organise a census. But for a decent majority of the Torah we get contradictory stories and inconsistent rules. If plain(ish) statistics and numbers become complex and subjective, what are Jews supposed to do with a text that comes ready-made with inbuilt complexities? It seems cruel, almost, to request we walk towards a text that requires such constant questioning and grappling. I feel like God is asking an awful lot of us.
If the world were a simple space of black and white, yes and no, right and wrong, I might welcome the opportunity to get my teeth into some complex contradictions. But at the moment I seem incapable of understanding anything that’s going on in ‘real life’, never mind adding an extra dose of ancient incomprehensibility for fun.
But the Beatles – an obvious source of advice – offer insight into this situation; we get by with a little help from our friends. On the evening of Saturday 8 June we will come together for Erev Shavuot for our Tikkun Leyl (study evening) where members and guests will be offering us a chance to untangle some of the toughest Jewish complexities. Whether you come to dive into a challenging text, or to escape from a challenging world, please do join us. And bring cheese, bread, cheesecake and fruit for our bring-and-share dinner (from 6.30pm) and Kiddush (at around 9pm). There'll also be a Shavuot service on the morning of Sunday 9 June (further details below).