Parashat Matot/Mas’ei

Friday, July 13, 2018 /1 Av, 5778
Parashat Matot/Mas’ei Numbers 30:2-36:13

Dear Friends,

When we set the NAV in our vehicles or in our phones, we start with setting the destination…

When we order a Lyft or an Uber, we pop in the destination…

I’ve hiked over the years at National Parks, and soon with our Torah on the Trails, and customarily, each trail is named for a lake, a stream or maybe a meadow, a destination…

Hence, it is surprising to find in our Torah portion this week, a verse which argues opposite to our experience.  It records each step in our 40-year trek in the desert by noting not our destinations, but rather our starting points. (Actually, we have a double portion this week, Matot/Mas’ei, and this verse opens the second portion.) Our verse reads, “Moses recorded the starting points of their various marches… their marches, by starting points, were as follows…” (Numbers 33:2)

This seems backwards. What might we learn from Moses’ recounting our journeys from starting points, and not from destinations?

In truth, it is rather simple: commonly in our life journeys we are aware of where we begin, but we may not know to where we truly are heading. We think we want to pursue medical school, but then we choose business and finance. We thought we wanted the red sedan, but ended up with the silver minivan. We thought we were heading directly to the Promised Land, but we took a 40-year detour. Temple Beth El appears to be on one trajectory, and then it shifts to another. We know where we commence, but the ending may change. Thus, Moses gave us starting points, and we arrived at our various endings.

So, too in life, and Temple life; one of my exalted professors in rabbinic school, taught 35 years ago, “We consistently move from the known to the unknown.”

Yes, we may know where we are at the outset, but destinations differ along the way, irrespective of our best plans. The secret is to be malleable and flexible. Holding too firmly to a given expectation is risky. Lao Tzu in the Tao taught that the healthy individual (and synagogue) is better to be like the pine tree which bends with the elements, than the oak which stands rigid and breaks under the weight of snow or wind.

Moses reminded us of where we started. We get to discover where we may end up. Such it is!

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Doug Kohn