Parashat Matot/Mas’ei

Friday, July 21, 2017 / 27 Tammuz, 5777
Parashat Matot/Mas’ei Numbers 30:2-36:13
Dear Friends,
Enthusiastic discoveries can take many forms. Three recent examples:

My dad, Rabbi Larry Mahrer, sends a weekly Shabbat email message to hundreds of friends. This week, he recalls the story of a family who came to his synagogue’s Religious School from a distant town. The first time the young daughter came to the building, she queried her parent about the building, what it was all about, and what happened there. Her parent said that the synagogue was “where God was.”  Since my dad was the only person she saw as she entered the building, she began to greet him with “Hi, God!” and “Bye, God” when she left. Finally, one Sunday morning, she came running back into the building and shouted “I always knew you weren’t really God!” [Dad has used her affirmation as the title of a book filled with such wonderful stories].I spent the last two weeks of June on faculty at URJ Camp Newman, as I do most summers. The enthusiasm of the campers with whom I spend time (3rd and 4th graders) knows no bounds. The educational theme for our session was “Superheroes” and we worked to figure out how we could each use our own “super powers” to show that we, indeed, are created in the image of God.

Campers scoured the camp to find one of our missing adult superheroes (counselors in costume), collecting tokens along the way to “free the captive.” They went on a blind-folded trust walk in the vineyard to concretize their understanding of “lifting up the fallen.” Perhaps the toughest task was putting the individual rungs of Maimonides’ “Ladder of Tzedakah” in order-but they did it!

During our closing program, they made their own “superhero” shields or golden [Wonder Woman] bracelets adding their own designs to their “Tzedek League” member badges and “mission statement”: (Tzedek, tzedek tirdof-Justice, justice, you shall pursue). Their conversations in group discussions manifest deep insight, curiosity and an age-appropriate amount of silliness.

Not to be outdone in the enthusiasm department-our diligent group of Thursday Torah Study participants regularly inspire me. Their vocabulary is certainly richer and their thoughts more sophisticated than my campers’…but this group loves to delve into our most sacred text, turning it and turning it to allow this ancient text to speak to our modern experiences. Yesterday, we turned to the last two portions of the book of Numbers, and tackled several conundrums in the text. Here are but two of them:

As the Israelites end the wandering in the desert and realize the fulfillment of the original Divine promise–arrival to the Land of Israel–why does the text depict in almost excruciating detail how our people left one place, camped in another; left that place, and camped in yet another-recalling each of the 42 stops in the desert on the way to the Promised Land? Why recall so much of the past rather than look toward the promised future?
How can the tribes of Reuben and Gad choose to establish their holdings outside of the established boundaries of the Promised Land? How can they balance their career/personal advancement and the lofty mission set forth by God for the Israelites?
Hazak Hazak v’nit-hazek
May we continually be strengthened
through our (enthusiastic) study of Torah.
Shabbat Shalom
Debi M. Rowe,
Director of Education and Programs