Parshios Matos & Masei
This week’s parshiyot mark the conclusion of the book of Bamidbar, the book
with the longest narrative of the events that befell the Jewish people
during their sojourn in the Sinai desert. On the whole, the events described
in Bamidbar are fairly depressing. The great hopes of marching into the Land
of Israel on a short three-day journey which appear at the beginning of the
book were dashed by the acts of rebellion and foolishness committed against
God and Moshe recorded in the latter part of the book.
Moshe himself is also destined to die now, never to reach the Land of
Israel. So the recitation of all of the stops and oases that marked the
Jewish journey from Egypt to the Land of Israel conjures up bittersweet
memories. There is always a sense of what might have been, of opportunities
lost and mistakes made.
I think that is probably true of all of us when we look back at our lives,
journeys, decisions and behavior. Life many times is made up of a series of
regrets. But the danger is to dwell constantly on those matters. It prevents
further positive planning and actions and it weakens one’s resolve to live
productively and meaningfully.
The recitation of the places in the desert where Israel dwelled is a
reminder of both insights. It allows the people to recall the mistakes of
the past but it points them towards the fulfillment of their goal of entry
into the Land of Israel. One should never operate an automobile without
looking regularly into the rear view mirror, yet one’s attention must
constantly be riveted on looking through the front windshield to see the
road and conditions ahead.
Over the long exile of the Jewish people and our complete dispersion over
the face of the globe we have stopped at many locales. Sometimes the stop
was a relatively short one but most times it was for the duration of many
centuries. Babylonia (present day Iraq) was a Jewish home for millennia,
while Iberia, North Africa, Poland, Germany and many other European
countries housed us for eight hundred years. But, somehow, no matter how
long we stayed in a certain place and how productive and secure we may have
felt regarding our situation, all of our stops along the way proved to be
temporary and impermanent.
The journeys of the Jewish people proved to be, in a manner of speaking, an
endless trek. But it always seemingly had a goal. The great Rabbi Nachman of
Breslov stated that “every step I take on this earth leads me towards
Jerusalem.” All of the stops, no matter how long their duration in the Exile
of Israel, were eventually nothing more than way stops.
Rabbi Meir Simcha of Dvinsk summarized it succinctly in his ringing
assessment of Jewish exile: “Woe to the ones who imagine that Berlin is
Jerusalem.” Well, we now all know that Berlin was far from being Jerusalem
but there are names of other current cities in the Jewish Diaspora that can
easily be substituted for Berlin in his prescient statement. We pray that
our travels are finally coming to an end and that we can strengthen
ourselves in that hope on this Shabat of chazak.
Rabbi Berel Wein