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Moshav Me'or Modiim, Israel
Rabbi Avraham Arieh and Rachel Trugman have over thirty years of experience in the field of Jewish education.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Masei - The Dynamics of the Journey

Masei, the last portion in the book of Numbers, marks the end of Israel’s forty year sojourn in the desert. The entire book of Deuteronomy takes place during a brief thirty-seven day period. Therefore, in Masei, the Torah summarizes the forty-two journeys that occurred during Israel’s wanderings in the desert, from the time the nation left Egypt to the current encampment in the plains of Moab across the Jordan River from Jericho.
    These journeys are introduced by a verse that creates a mirror image: “And Moses wrote their going forth according to their journeys at the command of God, and these were their journeys according to their going forth” (Numbers 33:2). The words “going forth” and “journeys” found in the first half of the verse occur in the opposite order in the second half of the verse. The ArtScroll Chumash quotes Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch on the significance of this inversion. The first half of the verse – “Their going forth according to their journeys” – is written from God’s perspective, as each time they went forth their journey had a specific purpose, while the second half of the verse is written from the people’s perspective. Since the people were often restless or dissatisfied, the journey itself is emphasized and not its purpose. As the verse makes clear, the journeys were more about leaving than about going anywhere – “their journeys according to their going forth.” 
    This point although subtle is so true. Oftentimes we have the forethought to map out our next moves in life in keeping with our long-term plans, with regard to a broader vision of where we are going in life. Sometimes though we really do not know what should come next but our intuition, at best, or our fears, at worst, compel us to make a move without fully knowing what the ramifications of such a move might be. The Sages actually suggest that in certain circumstances a change of physical location actually provides us with such a new perspective on our lives that it can either motivate us to change our fate, or, alternatively, that it can cause our fate to be changed on a metaphysical level (Rosh Hashanah 16). Although following a well thought out plan should be the ideal way to pursue what we believe is the Divinely inspired purpose of our lives, in retrospect, even acting intuitively or out of fear can also turn out to be, as the verse states, “at the command of God.” 
   One senses a dynamic pulsating energy in the summary of the journeys which is dramatically captured by the unique way the words are chanted during the public Torah reading. The only other time this unique melody is used is when the Song of the Sea is read in public. There too the energy is palpable as the Jews have just escaped from Egypt and seen their pursuers drowned in the Reed Sea. According to Chassidut, which teaches that the Torah provides each and every person in every generation with practical instruction, these forty-two journeys are an archetypal paradigm for every individual’s life journey. Each person, though, experiences these journeys in a fashion uniquely adapted to his or her soul and his or her lifework and purpose.

Shabbat Shalom!  

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