June 20th-21st, 2003
21 Sivan, 5763
Moving from one locale to another is surely one of the most stressful
events in life. You need a certain hardiness to be able to endure its
travails--the packing, the shlepping, the unpacking, and so on.
Imagine what it would be like if over the period of, say, 40 years, you
had to move roughly 20 times. And imagine further if you had no control
whatsoever about how long you’d be able to remain in any location, or when
it would be time to pull up stakes and hit the road again.
Guess what? Our biblical ancestors (the Children of Israel) experienced
just this as they traveled throughout the Sinai Wilderness at the command
of the Almighty--the ultimate (and Infinite) tour guide, you might say.
Throughout the Book of Numbers (this week’s portion included), we learn
some details about the logistics of their journeying.
Here’s an excerpt:
So it was always; the cloud covered it [the Tabernacle] by day, and the
appearance of fire by night. And when the cloud was taken up from the
tabernacle, then after that the people of Israel journeyed; and in the
place where the cloud abode, there the people of Israel pitched their
According to the word of Hashem, the people of Israel journeyed, and
according to the word of Hashem they camped; as long as the cloud abode
upon the tabernacle they rested in their tents.
And when the cloud remained long upon the tabernacle many days, then the
people of Israel kept the charge of the Lord, and journeyed not.
And so it was, when the cloud was a few days upon the tabernacle;
according to the word of Hashem, they abode in their tents, and according
to the word of Hashem they journeyed." [my emphasis]
Notice the repetition of the phrase, "according to the word of Hashem." As
our commentators point out, this is not superfluous verbiage. The Torah
wishes to highlight the fact that the Jewish people did not make their own
itinerary. At every step of the way, they had to follow G-d’s directives,
regardless of their own personal desire for rest or comfort, or their own
personal feelings about the place at which they were encamping (or from
which they were suddenly summoned to depart). You can imagine the kinds of
things they sometimes were thinking: "I hope we stay a while at this
oasis!" "The view in this place is the pits—why can’t we move on?!" But
none of that mattered a bit. They went where G-d led them, and they moved
on when G-d said it was time to go. Period.
There was a point to all this. G-d was not (and is not) interested in
making people suffer. He is, however, interested in helping us to grow
spiritually--to give us the opportunities to develop our capacities and
perfect our character. Judaism teaches that this is a primary goal of our
whole existence on earth! Therefore, we are sent challenges, and sometimes
obstacles, to help us actualize our G-d given potential (which is vast).
The exhausting travel schedule of the Jewish people in the Sinai desert
was such a challenge. And, as the verses above show us, our ancestors rose
to the challenge beautifully, moving on (or staying put) "according to the
word of Hashem."
Back to our century, and to our lives. We, too, undertake journeys in our
lives, and though we sometimes think (foolishly) that we are in sole
control of everything, the older we get the more we realize how great a
role "other factors" play in our travels. Some people give those factors,
collectively, the name of "luck" or "chance," but we Jewish people have
always known better. G-d is the One sending us those signals, offering us
those opportunities, and opening (or closing) the doors…all for the
purpose of helping us to grow spiritually. (Of course, though much is
"determined" for us, we still maintain our moral free choice--i.e., the
option of choosing good or evil.) Part of that spiritual growth involves
the basic acknowledgment (and expression of thanks) that G-d is the One
guiding us in our lives.
We can learn much from this week’s portion. The signals we get may not be
quite so explicit as the ones given to our ancestors (we do not live in an
age of prophecy), but G-d is communicating with us all the same. Both
through the Torah itself, and through the happenings (not "coincidences")
of our daily lives. And G-d is sure to send us "itineraries" that we never
could have imagined would come our way. (Expect the unexpected in life, in
other words…like this Yankee living in Savannah going on 8 years!) Our
"test" is to see G-d’s hand, and to follow G-d’s will, in whatever
circumstances…wherever we are.
In short, to travel through our lives according to the word of Hashem.
I wish you…no, I wish us all, a healthy and exciting and growth-filled
voyage of discovery.
My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Into Genesis |
Insights Into Exodus |
Insights Into Leviticus
Insights into Numbers |
Edelstein, Savannah Kollel. Phone:
912-351-0469; fax: 354-9923
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