Seder: From Chaos to Order in Creation and Life
Perhaps nothing is more unsettling than a new place, new people, or new experiences, nor as liberating. The biblical book of Numbers (Hebrew: B'Midbar) transitions the Israelites
from 400 years of Egyptian slavery to an organized encampment of tribal designations situated by households. Indeed, their wilderness journey seemed less a liberation—though it was—but more a growing experience as they learned to cooperate with HaShem and one another.
I say these things to acknowledge my absence from Substack, embarking on my journey from Virginia to Florida. In a way, the move has been liberating, but transitions also come with a bit of chaos. I also chose this topic, the Jewish middah of “seder” (order), because it is the thematic opening of a recent study in the book of Numbers. It begins with the counting and ordering of the Israelite tribes but generally sets the tone for the fourth canonical book. While God organizes his people, he orients their view towards the Tabernacle of his presence.
Throughout Numbers, “seder” (order) is characteristic of God’s attribute of differentiation, operative in the creation narrative. Thus, it is a character trait and, when balanced, a core spiritual value. In his article “Seder—Order: The Measure and Ideal of Middot,” Rabbi Avi Fertig explains the daily application of seder. On one extreme, misusing “order” produces dictatorial and dangerous edicts against members of society. Fertig recalls the diabolical and extreme ordering of the Jews during Nazi Germany. Suppose “order” is appropriately balanced, then clear thought and restraint function individually and societally. In Adonai’s economy, the Israelites were to keep their eyes upon him with love and deference, and so should we—at all times, whether chaotic or calm. By doing so, we find peace in the storm, and importantly, we remember the promises of God.
I love the carte blanche promise given by God to Abraham: “ADONAI had blessed Abraham with everything” (Gen. 24:1b). Likewise, as adopted sons and daughters through Yeshua (Jesus), we too come into this heritage:
“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’—in Christ Jesus, the blessings of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise through the Spirit in faith” (Gal. 3:14).
Cultural Backdrop #4: The Law as a Curse
Preached from the pulpit, “the law” is often interpreted generically as the “Laws of Moses,” recalling lists of levitical dictates. However, a close reading considers the literary context to determine whether it speaks about a particular custom/law, such as circumcision, or as an overarching category. A proper exegesis and its preceding theological positions consider the close reading and the broader thematic perspective—how a portion or verse fits into the broader context of the letter and its Jewish culture within Greco-Roman society.
Regarding the Laws of Moses within the Torah, God’s people needed to understand his character, rightly reflecting his expectations for his community. His people are “living statues,” per se, representing the Creator’s image and character through covenantal commands for an orderly, moral, and considerate lifestyle. The Bible expresses this relational theme throughout. God connects “love” and “deeds” within the covenantal relationship. Thus, the relational bond stands in stark contrast to the primordial chaos. Have you noticed this pattern—chaos vs. order?
Today, the “chaos of old” seems to vie for dominance in multiple settings, not simply in a tree or a tower to the heavens or the deep primordial waters. Evidence of an ever-encroaching “chaos” appears in media outlet reporting practices, the rhetoric of governmental pundits, and the dictates of worldwide oligarchies. But the God of Israel remains orderly amid political storms. He hovered over tehom, the deep primordial darkness—Tiamat’s watery abyss. He thundered order and distinction into the watery depths and yet offered the gentle breath-of-life to mankind.
We are all created in God’s image, formed and fashioned by his hands, and given his divine breath of life. In other words, to the chaos, God spoke mightily, bringing order. To the creaturely world, he said, “Come forth,” but to his divine image, he knelt in the dirt, purposely and patiently fashioning humanity according to his heart’s desire. Into his people, Elohim said, “Be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28). In those words, the Creator blessed humanity with the creative power to bring forth life through the seed of man and woman. Likewise, he blessed humanity with free will, granting the choice to follow or turn away. This same creative process, fashioned by the Creator, saturates biblical laws with guiding parental love, allowing blessings or curses—causes and effects for following or piloting one’s own path. Scripture evinces this natural truth.
Notice the parallelism prevalent in Jewish literature— “love” with “deeds” in the following verses. For instance, the Torah articulated this premise to the Israelites:
“Therefore you are to love Adonai your God and keep His charge, His statutes, His ordinances, and His mitzvot at all times” (emphasis added, Deut. 11:1 TLV).
Again, the glorified Yeshua in the apocryphal book, “Revelation,” admonished the church in Ephesus for forgetting their first love:
“Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first” (emphasis added, Rev. 2:4-5 NIV).
Therefore, let each of us love God first and also one another: “We know that we love God’s children by this—when we love God and obey His commandments. For this is the love of God—that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:2-3 TLV).
 Rabbi Avi Fertig, “Seder—Order: The Measure and Ideal of Middot,” in The Mussar Torah Commentary: A Spiritual Path to Living a Meaningful and Ethical Life (New York: CCAR Press, 2020), 213–18.