Little Grains of Sand

by Rabbi Nancy Tunick | June 9, 2016

It’s almost summer, and we have a couple of beach trips planned. The first thing my kids

want to do when they get to the beach is build sand castles. There are a couple of

different varieties. Louis likes to use the bucket molds where you pack the damp sand in

and then turn it over to form a perfect castle structure. Sarah likes drip castles, so first

you build a mountain of sand and then you get some very wet sand and drip it on the

structure. Both are beautiful in their own ways and both castles are made from thousands

of grains of sand. If you scooped up a handful of sand, you would have about 10,000

grains in your hand. So these castles are one structure made up of literally of at least

100,000 grains of sand….and in some cases, maybe even 603,550.

This week’s Torah portion immediately brought sand to mind as it is called Bamidbar

which can be translated to mean in the desert. It’s sort of like the beach without the

ocean. And it is the first section of Numbers where Moses is taking a census and

determining the number of people in each tribe and also determining what each tribe’s

responsibilities and contributions will be as they travel across the sand as one community.

This is where the idea of being connected to each other seems so important. Moses is

forming one community… castle….from 603,550 Jews. Each person has an

individual contribution but each individual contribution is not complete without the other

603,549 contributions.

When we are at the beach and it rains, my kids and I turn to puzzles. Have you ever

looked at a puzzle piece as it if were an individual work of art? Each piece has its own

unique color and shape regardless of how it fits into the big picture. But when you snap

it into place, it becomes part of a beautiful whole. The goal is to build the picture on the

box, to create the whole. But there is never a better time than building a puzzle to

recognize the value of each individual piece. Have you ever spent hours with a 1000

piece puzzle only to be unable to complete it because one piece is missing? Each

individual piece clearly leaves a hole to fill. And interestingly though nearly every

puzzle you can buy is of a beautiful scene or picture, each individual piece is not

necessarily beautiful. Some are with lovely colors and shadings, but some are totally

black and some have odd shapes and edges. But though some are ugly, strange or

unexpected, they fit together to make something beautiful and complete.

Often times, life feels like a puzzle, particularly when distressing or unexpected things

occur. And without seeing the big picture, it’s hard to imagine why something so black

or irregularly shaped should even be in our puzzle of a life. And it isn’t until after the

puzzle is complete, that we see the value and absolute necessity of each piece. So maybe

that’s faith. Faith is defined as the complete trust or confidence in someone or

something. So maybe faith is the complete trust or confidence that God has the box and

not only can see the image that we’re building but actually painted it.

This brings us back to the Shema, the most powerful of prayers, that says the Lord is our

God and the Lord is One. Is that really reinforcing the idea that there is only one God

versus two or three or ten Gods, or could it be that the Shema is saying that the Lord is

One with us all….every grain of sand, every puzzle piece, every soul traveling through

the desert and traveling through life today….that we are one with each other and one with

God, even as each one of us maintains our individuality and contributes to the One in our

own unique and irreplaceable way.

So as we face our week, let’s focus on our unique purpose, our unique part of the picture

that is this beautiful life. And if we look at each moment and each other knowing that we

are connected, then even our darkest times become more manageable and our joys that

much brighter. In the words of American poet Julia Fletcher Carney, “Little drops of

water, little grains of sand, make the mighty ocean, and the pleasant land. So the little

minutes, humble though they be, make the mighty ages, of eternity.”

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