The book of Numbers in Hebrew, Bemidbar, In the Wilderness is a key text for our time. It is among the most searching, self-critical books in all of literature about what Nelson Mandela called the long walk to freedom. Its message is that there is no shortcut to liberty. Numbers is not an easy book to read, nor is it an optimistic one. It is a sober warning set in the midst of a text the Hebrew Bible that remains the West s master narrative of hope. The Mosaic books, especially Exodus and Numbers, are about the journey from slavery to freedom and from oppression to law-governed liberty. On the map, the distance from Egypt to the Promised Land is not far. But the message of Numbers is that it always takes longer than you think. For the journey is not just physical, a walk across the desert. It is psychological, moral, and spiritual. It takes as long as the time needed for human beings to change.... You cannot arrive at freedom merely by escaping from slavery. It is won only when a nation takes upon itself the responsibilities of self-restraint, courage, and patience. Without that, a journey of a few hundred miles can take forty years. Even then, it has only just begun.
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks is one of the world s leading Jewish thinkers and moral voices of our time. Educated at Cambridge University and Jews College London, he served as chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth from 1991 until 2013. The author of numerous books on Jewish thought, his work has included a new English translation and commentary for the Koren Sacks Siddur, the first new Orthodox siddur in a generation, as well as powerful commentaries for the Rosh HaShana, Yom Kippur, and Pesah Mahzorim.