Posted on July 16, 2020
Matot Mas’ei D’var Torah
Words from the Rabbi
Where are you from?
It is supposed to be an easy question. But because I moved around quite a bit as a child, I never found it an easy question at all. I never knew what to say when people asked where I was from. Then I settled down with Jeffrey in Massachusetts and we raised our family there. To this day when I am asked where I am from, I often respond that I raised my family in Sharon, Massachusetts. Sometimes I say that I grew up in Ottawa, Canada, which was a formative place for me. What I do not do is begin with where we lived when I was a small child and recite where we moved from there and where we traveled from there and where we went from there.
I do not do that. But the Torah does. The Torah portion this week is the double parashah of Matot-Mas’ei. The second of these, Mas’ei, is the final parashah in the book of B’Midbar Numbers and it details the path of the Israelites through their lengthy desert trek. It reads something like this: The people of Israel set out from point A and encamped at point B. They set out from point B and encamped at point C. They set out from point C and encamped at point D. Sometimes a geographic detail or a mini-story of something that happened at a particular location is added, but this is more or less the format. We might ask why write it this way? Why not just list the stops or skip it altogether and focus on the final destination? After all, we already heard about the travels of the Israelites in the desert throughout the rest of the book of Numbers.
This week, as I make another stop on my personal life journey, I have been giving this question substantial thought. I moved to Ithaca a year ago and what a year it has been. It was a year of forging relationships, of guiding a congregation in new directions, of coping with COVID-19, of walking up hills and down gorges and seeing outstanding waterfalls. I grew and I gained and I gathered; I am not the same person I was when I got to Ithaca.
We came to Ithaca from Greensboro, NC, where we lived on the campus of a Jewish boarding school for five years. My husband is from St. Louis, but Greensboro was my first (and likely only) experience of living in the American South. I taught at a Methodist university, which meant that I worked for non-Jews for the first (and likely only) time in my professional career. Every fall I would watch the gardeners pull out the summer flowers and replace them with the winter flowers — even after five years that phrase winter flowers still sounded like an oxymoron. I grew and I gained and I gathered; I was not the same person when I left Greensboro that I was when I got there.
The Torah lists each desert stop of the Israelites. Each time the Torah notes both that they came there and that they left there, perhaps to emphasize the importance of each stop on our journeys. Stops on our journeys are not limited to places we have moved –I have already learned that quite a few people here have not moved or have moved back and are very long Scranton area/Temple Israel residents. Stops on our journey might include places we have worked, phases in our lives, growth, and learning periods of different kinds, trips we have taken, people we encountered, projects we have taken on. And each experience, each stop, changes us, allows us to grow and develop. By listing each one the Torah is teaching us to appreciate each phase of our lives, each stop in our trek. Each one matters.
I am delighted to be joining you at Temple Israel and look forward to building relationships, to sharing, praying, and learning together, to being part of this congregation. You can find me at morning minyan, at weekly Kabbalat Shabbat and havdalah, and soon, taking my daily walk on the streets and parks in Scranton. You can reach me by email at rabbi@TempleIsraelScranton.org. On Friday, July 31st we will have a welcome Kabbalat Shabbat. Watch also for upcoming classes, programs, and Tisha B’Av observances.
Here is to parashat Matot-Mas’ei and appreciating each step on life’s journey!