Parashat Matot-Massei: Journey
"Life is a journey." Isn’t that how the saying goes? How do we tend to mark our journeys? How do we remember? Perhaps we may use diaries, journals, scrapbooks, photographs, videos, etc,. Especially in today’s world there are a variety of ways we all track our lives depending on what sort of moment we are catching. Why is it important? Why do we feel this need to tangibly capture key or even random moments in our lives?
In this week’s Torah portion, Matot-Massei, G-d has Moses mark the stages of the Israelites journey from Egypt to the Promised Land, “These are the journeys of the children of Israel who left the land of Egypt with their armies, under the charge of Moses and Aaron. Moses recorded their starting points for their journeys according to the word of the Lord, and these were their journeys with their starting points (Numbers 33:1-2).” The Torah then goes through each place they journeyed to in the wilderness until this point. In total Moses records 42 starting points. Why was it important to G-d that Moses record the Israelites journey?
The obvious answer is that G-d didn’t want this hugely momentous point in history to be forgotten. I mean that is 40 years wandering through the wilderness we are talking about. A time period where in essence the Israelites transformed from being slaves to being free people with their own Land. Plus let’s not forget that this 40 year journey and all its lessons were our beginning. It was our beginning as a people, as a true nation on our own. But, I believe there is more to it than that. In the Torah, G-d specifically wants Moses to record all of their starting points. The Torah could have said stopping points, or even just places, but it uses “starting points.” One of the great Chasidic Rabbis, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi commented on this, “And the journey from Mitzrayim (Egypt) is a perpetual one: what is expansive and uninhibited by yesterday’s standards, is narrow and confining in light of added wisdom and new possibilities of today’s station. Thus each of life’s ‘journeys’ is and exodus from the land of Mitzrayim: having transcended yesterday’s limitations, we must again journey from the Mitzrayim that our present norm represents relative to our newly uncovered potential.” Life is made up of starting points. We look back not just to remember our pasts, to remember the lessons we learned, but also to be inspired by the possibilities of our future. That is why G-d wanted Moses to record the Israelite journey. Our past would lead us to our future.
Tonight at your Shabbat dinner table, think about your starting points. Think about how you got to where you are. How have you have marked your life? Think about all your starting points, all of your beginnings. Remember your life, look through your photographs, read through your journals, and think about the possibilities of the future. Let them inspire you. Life is a journey. There are always places to go.