In Parashat Mas’ei, we read a review of the Israelite’s journeys through their forty years in the desert. It is important to understand that the journey was not orchestrated by the human mind, but was designed by God. The point of the journey was not fun or entertainment, but to find a way home. Throughout history, Jews have constantly been on the move. Yet the traveling has always been purposeful, with starting points and final destinations clearly defined. Abraham began the journey from Haran to the Promised Land, with the mission of spreading monotheism. In the next stage Moses led the people from slavery to freedom, traveling the road of redemption.
In enumerating the forty-two encampments of the Israelite wanderings, Moses exclusively uses the same expression: vayisu, “and they set out,” which can also be read as “and they journeyed.” This refrain, heard again and again, emphasizes their moving toward their goal. The forty years in the desert were by no means purposeless meanderings. They were years of fear and uncertainty, but also of struggling to find faith, as evidenced by God’s presence throughout. The time spent en route to the Promised Land was filled with experiences of learning and growth, enabling our people to become a community. As memories of Egypt faded into the background, the people continually moved forward, both physically and spiritually, to reach their objective.
In our lifetime, most of us have embarked on a road trip with our families, youth groups, or friends. While our destination may have been the beach, the mountains, or a big city, often the time spent getting there is when the memories are made and when the greatest transformations occur. Spending hours on a bus with thirty-five other people—sharing sights, new experiences, meals, and even getting stuck in traffic—can often turn assorted individuals into a community. Or the spontaneous, off-the-Trip-Tik stop can give rise to a story that becomes part of family lore, in addition to an unforgettable vacation moment. Given the gifts of time and shared transportation, individuals have the opportunity to learn from one another, find mutual interests, and grow from communal experiences.
Journeys are not limited to physical movements and sightseeing. Countless individuals have been transformed by spiritual travel as well. Some are motivated by the loss of a loved one, a change in family situation, or a deep-seated soul searching. Journeys like these can be fraught with challenges, such as living alone for the first time, missing the warm presence and reassuring voice of a deceased relative or friend, or feeling lost in a worship service where the words and melodies are foreign.
But we shouldn’t condemn those experiences. All those ups and downs make us what we are and help us to find or define our goal(s) in life. The road trip, we call life, isn’t always pleasant, but always worth living.
Rabbi Adrian M Schell
(Source Rabbi J.R.Beiner)
|Torah Reading for Shabbat Mas’ei
Reading: Numbers 35.22-36.13
(Plaut p.1119/Hertz p.714)
Haftarah Jeremiah 2:4-28 (P.p.1135; H.p.725)
In Parashat Mas’ei the forty-two journeys and encampments of Israel are listed, and the boundaries of the Promised Land are given. And a final ruling in the case of the daughters of Tzelofechad is given by Moses.
Podcast of Rabbi Schell’s weekly Sermons Tuesdays on Radio Today (10h30) or: http://goo.gl/LsHQrY.
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