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It’s All About the Journey

Dvar Haftarah: It’s All About the Journey

Rabbi Adir Yalkut,  Rabbi in Residence at Temple Israel Center in White Plains,  CY Student Alumnus, 2010, 2013-2014

As we near the end of the reading of the book of  Bamidbar this Shabbat, we might expect it to end with a flourish. With events like the ground opening up to swallow rebels, birds falling from the sky, and a spy mission has almost gone horribly wrong, shouldn’t the Torah give us the world’s first season-ending cliffhanger? Yet, what we are treated to reads as the first-ever Torah inspired TripTik.
In  Parshat Masei, the latter of the two portions we read this week, beginning with chapter 33:3, we read 47 verses worth of stops on the road. We start at Ramses and end at the Jordan near Jericho, where Moses prepares to give God’s instruction on finally taking possession of the land. This is the moment the people have been waiting for. They are on the cusp of the culmination of this arduous journey that has been hindered nearly every step of the way. So, why then do we need an explicit accounting of each moment on this trip? Was it not enough to have lived it?!
For the immediate gratification crowd, maybe a jump right into the next exciting part of the journey would read more dramatically. Yet, our reading of the Torah often exhorts us to be more intentional and mindful in our lives. Delayed gratification is good! Rashi shares a penetrating insight into why this is. He first answers that the reason all these stops were listed was that in God’s benevolence, God didn’t want the reader to think that God made them journey without any cessation. After some Rashi arithmetic for how that works, Rashi then quotes a  Midrash( (Tanchuma 4:10:3 ) that shares a different thought:
“R. Tanchuma gave another explanation of it (of the question of why these stages are here recorded). A parable! It may be compared to the case of a king whose son was ill and whom he took to a distant place to cure him. When they returned home the father began to enumerate all the stages, saying to him, “Here we slept, here we caught cold, here you had the headache, etc.”
When I read this  Midrash, I immediately picture a child at the end of a long day, not wanting to go to sleep, asking a parent or grandparent to tell them that story again. You know, the one they have heard already hundreds of times. God was with the Israelites every step of the way on this desert journey yet here at the end of it, God wants to make sure that the Israelites understand what it took to get them here. This is the spot where we faced this enemy. This is where you shined as a leader, Moshe. To simply jump into the next part of this story would be a disservice and a cheapening to that which got them there.
I think of this dynamic often in our lives that sometimes operate at hyper speed. How often are we itching to get to that next stage? It is only human of course. To me though, one of the messages of the end of Bamidbar is the power of the story and that sometimes it can be more useful to look backward. It can be incredibly edifying to immerse ourselves in the ups and downs of whatever journeys we are on. That way, once we reach our promised land, we can do so with the full understanding of the steps that brought us there, those that brought us to our lowest lows and those that brought us to our highest heights.
I support the idea that too much focus on the past can cause depression and too much focus on the future can cause anxiety. The goal is to send the majority of time absorbed productively in the present, but that does not mean that reflection on the past and future are not valuable in moderate amounts. A healthy personality should spend 90% of the time absorbed in the present and 10% of the time reflecting on past experience and planning for the future. Too much of either can result in dysfunction. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – Santayana  “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” – Benjamin Franklin.
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