This summer, like last summer, road trips across the great USA are very popular. We’re hankering to be “out and about” after living with Covid-19. One of my aunts and uncles have an RV and are traveling cross country for a few years. They’ve never done anything like this previously. They travel for awhile, stop somewhere they find appealing and stay for awhile. No one knows how many stops they’ll make before their journey is finished.
This has been a life-altering experience for both of them. It has taught them new things about their relationship while living in such close living quarters for long periods of time. They’ve learned to resolve issues quickly in a calm, thoughtful and reflective manner. They’ve been able to appreciate the beauty and joy in the simple pleasures they encounter daily. They share their joy in their discoveries with us through an online travelogue, with words, photos, and amusing anecdotes. They’ve learned how to thoroughly enjoy life, have fun, laugh, and relax, because tomorrow will be a new day. On their journey, they don’t ask “are we there yet,” because wherever they are at the moment is precisely where they want to be…even if they take a wrong turn.
I thought about my aunt and uncle this week as I studied our weekly Torah portion, Mattot-Masei from the book of Numbers. At the beginning of our parsha, we have another travelogue of sorts that takes us on a journey from Rameses in Egypt to the encampment by the Jordan just short of the Promised Land. All of this is recounted step-by-step. This too, is a transformative journey for our people. It’s a journey that takes a rag-tag group of slaves and transforms them into God’s covenanted people, ready to settle back into their homeland after being gone for over 400 years.
There are many rabbinic explanations why the Torah is so explicit in recounting each place so explicitly with 42 stops outlined in great detail. Medieval commentator Moses Maimonides teaches that “it was the result of God’s wisdom that the Israelites were led about in the wilderness until they acquired courage.” [which they will need once they enter the Land of Israel]. The Guide for the Perplexed, Moses Maimonides, vol 3, chapter 32.
As a congregation, we too are on our own journey, a journey that began when Temple Beth Sholom first began in1943, 79 years ago. We didn’t all begin the journey at the same time, nor from the same place. People are joining our journey at different points along the way. We don’t all share the same knowledge base, perception of our communal history, world-view, or understanding about how to move forward. Yet, we are all part of the same holy community, with a deep and abiding love for our spiritual and congregational home.
As your new rabbi joining your journey at this stage, it’s important for us to create a communal, shared travelogue of sorts, so we can move forward together in a way that is healthy, strong, and vital. Over the coming months, we’ll have opportunities for retreats, study sessions and other programs to share our communal history, think about our culture, reflect on where we’ve been and be intentional about where we would like to go. This process will help guide us toward the future.
Parshat Mattot-Masei represents a spiritual elevation as we draw nearer to the Land of Israel. We hope that our own communal travelogue will provide us with the same opportunity for Temple Beth Sholom. May our communal journey over the coming year lift us, renew us, and elevate us to a higher place.
Rabbi Sharon L. Sobel
Senior Rabbi, Temple Beth Sholom