Matot-Masei, Numbers 30:2-36:13
This week’s Torah portion brings the Book of Numbers, and in many ways the narrative of the Torah, to a close. With the end of B’midbar, our people’s journey in the desert comes nearly to an end as they stand ready to cross the Jordan River into the Land of Israel. They are perched literally on the precipice of freedom, wholeness, and promise.
For me, too, this week brings a different type of ending as my time in Pittsburgh draws to a close. I have been so blessed to spend five years in this community. I have been enriched by my many experiences with the people of Pittsburgh, and it is to you that I am most grateful for the opportunity to serve and be part of a warm and welcoming community.
It is through this lens that I turned my attention to this week’s double Torah portion, Matot-Masei. In this passage, the Torah names all 42 encampments of the Children of Israel on their 40-year journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. Why does the Torah spend an entire chapter outlining all of Israel’s encampments in the desert?
There is a wonderful Midrash that helps elucidate this text. The Midrash imagines God telling the Israelites to write down all the places through which they journeyed on their way from slavery to freedom. The Rabbis compare this writing exercise to the situation of a king who takes his ill son to a distant land to be cured. On the way home, the king recounts for his son everything they experienced along their way: this is the place where you had a headache, this is the place where you rested, and so on.
What are we to understand from this story? Just as the king cares endlessly for his child and literally travels alongside his son on the road from illness to health, so too does God care for Israel and journey alongside them as they wandered in the desert on the road from adolescence to adulthood and, ultimately, spiritual freedom.
So too it is for us.
Life and its associated journey is not always easy and does not always go as planned. Like our ancestors, we will invariably experience sharp turns and bumps along the way and our path will often feel circuitous. However, if we take time, as our Torah does, to recount the many places that we have crossed or encamped along our way, we will begin to realize just how far we have come since hearing that first call, Lech Lecha.
Summer is the perfect time to take a stroll down memory lane. Take out a book that you loved that helped shape your thinking, look through a family photo album at the people who encouraged you, read an old journal that you have kept safely tucked away and the experiences that challenged you, call a good friend who inspires you or just sit and think for a while. Recount the many journeys in life that have taken you there or brought you here. Some will bring a smile to your face; others will bring a tear to the eye. Maybe you will want to write your memories down just like the Israelites were told to do.
And as we remember and as we continue on our journeys, even in difficult and challenging times, may we be strengthened by our stops along the way, encouraged by successes, better because of our challenges. And may we always feel supported and protected as we move ahead.
Chazak, chazak, v’nitchzek. Be strong. Be strong. And together may we all be strengthened.
(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)