Matot-Masei Shabbat morning פרשת מטות־מסעי

Parashat Matot-Masei / פרשת מטות־מסעי
Saturday morning

Boker tov, good morning. It is funny how when we begin a conversation, parts of it come back again and again. The same is true with Torah. Last week, I started talking about journeys and this week’s parsha brings us back to the very same idea. As we are on the cusp of entering the Promised Land, we conclude the book of Numbers with the second half of our double Parsha Masei-journeys--marches-- travels.

אֵ֜לֶּה מַסְעֵ֣י בְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל אֲשֶׁ֥ר יָצְא֛וּ מֵאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרַ֖יִם לְצִבְאֹתָ֑ם בְּיַד־מֹשֶׁ֖ה וְאַהֲרֹֽן׃

These were the marches of the Israelites who started out from the land of Egypt, troop by troop, in the charge of Moses and Aaron. This week you even heard a change in the rhythm of the trope. We hear each step along the way. We can imagine ourselves wandering in the wilderness, but it also helps us to see that it wasn’t ALWAYS a journey. We did stay in places for awhile.

וַיִּסְע֖וּ מֵרִמֹּ֣ן פָּ֑רֶץ וַֽיַּחֲנ֖וּ בְּלִבְנָֽה׃

They set out from Rimmon-perez and encamped at Libnah.

וַיִּסְע֖וּ מִלִּבְנָ֑ה וַֽיַּחֲנ֖וּ בְּרִסָּֽה׃

They set out from Libnah and encamped at Rissah.

וַיִּסְע֖וּ מֵרִסָּ֑ה וַֽיַּחֲנ֖וּ בִּקְהֵלָֽתָה׃

They set out from Rissah and encamped at Kehelath.

וַיִּסְע֖וּ מִקְּהֵלָ֑תָה וַֽיַּחֲנ֖וּ בְּהַר־שָֽׁפֶר׃

Etc etc etc

As we think about the journey of our people, it makes me think about the journeys of our people. What are our own family stories? How did we find ourselves here? Did we travel willingly? Were we refugees? Were we escaping changing economies or persecution?

This week I was privileged to visit the Florida Holocaust Museum. While I went for the Eichmann exhibit, Operation Finale, which was fascinating and excellent--and tomorrow is it’s last day, the permanent collection is incredibly moving. What struck me was their acknowledgement and declaration that genocide is not just something of the past. To the present day there are people attempting to destroy other cultures for personal or political gain. We say “Never Again”, yet we have not quite gotten there yet.

As a rabbi, I feel that the words we choose are very important. The language we use to describe situations and one another can have a major impact on how we see people and treat people. I think back to New York City, the Lower East Side at the turn of the 20th century. Then, Jews were coming from around the world, but mostly Eastern Europe to escape persecution and find new opportunities. Jews were called vermin, pests, animals, criminals. One police commissioner wrote in a public forum:
“half the criminals in the city were Russian Jews, and the worst offenders were their Hebrew sons, whom he described as natural pickpockets.” For me, it is very concerning when politicians speak about Jews--or anyone-- with that kind of language. It upsets me greatly to hear that several candidates for public office today--in 2018-- speak about Jews and others with similar language. Anti-semitism, racism, hatred have not yet disappeared.

Returning to the context of the incredible museum, the parallels between the permanent collection, the special exhibition, this week’s parsha and our own family histories are truly incredible. With all of them, we saw the complex journeys that it takes for any of us to arrive in our own present experience.

Rabbi Mark Greenspan wrote this week about some of the commentators on this week's parsha and how they explained the journey:
Commenting on the itinerary, Rashi suggests that there is an element of nostalgia in this list. It is meant to remind the people of God’s great love for Israel. Imagine a king, Rashi says, whose son became ill and needed to be taken to a doctor in a far-off land. Once cured, the king and his son return home. As they travel from place to place, the king reminds his son of all that transpired on their journey to see the doctor. He tells him, “Here we rested, here you became very sick, here you had a headache.” In a sense, Massei is the end of the Torah; Moses reminds the people of all that has happened during their journey.

Rambam, Moses Maimonides, offers a different explanation. He suggests that the list of locations was meant to refute the claim that the reason it took Israel so long to reach the Promised Land was that they were lost and Moses - being a guy - refused to ask for directions. The Torah states that all the journeys took place al pi Adonai, “according to the word of God.” Nothing was accidental or pure chance along the way. Every step of Israel’s journey was essential in preparing them to enter a nation.

But maybe there are other reasons for the detailed list of locations in Parshat Massei. The truth is, it shouldn’t have taken more than eleven or twelve days to reach Canaan. But Israel had more to accomplished than simply arriving at their desired location. They had to grow up and become a nation. They had to learn the importance of independence and develop a deep faith and trust in God. They had to cease to be slaves and become a nation of free people. (Text from Rabbi Mark Greenspan of Oceanside Jewish Center)

I'll have to update this again soon.  Apparently my conclusions didn't save into the cloud!

I'm not going to rewrite now--but what I did speak about was the following:
  • Continuning to show respect in our language towards one another
  • Disgust for contiuning hatred, anti-Semitism, racism in our society
  • Hope for a future with more positive cooperation
  • The power of our journeys to shape us and a reminder that our journeys continue.
  • The Torah has us on the cusp, showing that our journey always continues.
  • I couldn't find the word asymptote--but that's what I was going for
Let us continue our journeys together.  We have much to learn, much to study, much to love, much to build.  Shabbat Shalom!