Friday, July 17, 2020 /25 Tammuz, 5780
Parashat Matot – Mas-ei Numbers 30:2-36:13
This week I reconnected with an old friend and teacher. It had been at least a decade since we last spoke, but when a mutual friend mentioned him, I realized it was time to reconnect. After a pleasant phone conversation, I began to reflect on how his gentle presence, his courageous vulnerability, and his words of guidance had a profound influence on me. Although we hadn’t connected in so long, it became crystal clear that I am a better person for having known him, and I am filled with gratitude for the good fortune of having him in my life once more.
As we reach the end of the book of Numbers in this week’s Torah portion, the Israelites also had an opportunity for reflection. The portion reviews all forty-two places they visited throughout their long journey in the wilderness. The long listing of encampments feels clunky and awkward to read, but its presence is more vital than it seems at first glance. Each of these places represents an experience that shaped the Israelites as a people. Over a forty-year period, the people had transformed from slaves to free people on the precipice of entering their own land. They had defiantly marched forth from Egypt, learned from the sin of the Golden calf, and received the Ten Commandments. They had overcome rebellion after rebellion, mourned for the death of Miriam and Aaron, and developed new leaders. They had come so far. After all of these years, they were finally ready to enter the Promised Land.
Midrash Tanchuma Mas’ei 11 strikes a parallel between the Israelites’ pilgrimage and that of a king who takes his child on a journey in search of a cure for the child’s illness. On the way back home, the king recalls each leg of the first trip, remembering all they had been through together. He considers the anxiety he felt, the moments of hope and consolation. Each of these moments was precious. As the journey comes to an end, the king reflects upon it, feeling gratitude for everything had been through, and for the successful completion of their mission.
Such moments of reflection are what gives life its meaning. In their excitement to start the next journey, it would be all too easy for the Israelites to lose sight of how far they have come. They could so easily lose touch with the memories and people who had shaped them along the way. The Torah’s wisdom comes at this moment, to remind them—and us—to take time to reflect on our journey. This Shabbat, let us take time to reflect on just how far we have come. How have we grown? Who has had an indelible influence on our lives? With whom do we wish to reconnect in the weeks to come? A few moments of reflection can go a long way.
Rabbi Cassi Kail