Turns out, the most common question is not – ‘when are we going to get there’? But rather – ‘what are we doing tomorrow’? On the climb uphill, they want to know exactly, what are we doing tomorrow, and is the hike next week more difficult than this one, or maybe comparable to the one the day before yesterday?? I ask them not to worry, not to think at all. They look at me like I lost my mind. it is the hardest thing, to just be where we are.
The opening of the last Torah portion in the Book of Numbers has a great rhythm: “and they journeyed from… and they encamped at…” is the chorus (Numbers 33:5-37), repeating more than 30 times (!) and weaving in the different sites and events. So redundant and boring! Why not hand us a straight list of attractions? Why go over the same names again and again in a style of – ‘we traveled from Seattle to Olympic National Park, and stayed there. And then traveled from Olympic National Park to Portland, and stayed there. And then traveled from Portland to Ashland and… ‘? If it’s so much work to write the Torah and each word matters, just say where you’ve been!
But just like music is made of notes and of the spaces between them, the journey is made of going, and of stopping; of experiencing and processing, of doing and of being.
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What would we do with almost endless amounts of money? Building a toilet is probably not the first thing that comes to my mind, but it does to Bill and Melinda Gates. After all the amazing views and natural wonders, visiting their Foundation in Seattle is definitely one of the most inspiring high points of the trip.
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You can sleep right through the 16.2 sqm town of Tonopah NV with its mostly monotonous desert views, but a tall sign stands out: Mitzpah Hotel. Built in 1907, the history of the Mizpah Hotel began during the great Nevada silver boom and was known to be called the “Grand Old Lady” for its elegant service, comfort, and amenities. The five-story hotel was the tallest building in Nevada until 1929 and featured the first electric elevator west of the Mississippi. But what about its name??
In one of the sites, I find that “Mizpah” is a biblical reference meaning ‘to come back together with those you love’ – not exactly sure how they came up with this. Rav Hirsch translates it as watchtower, where it appears in Genesis 31:49 a mark between Jacob and Lavan, his father in law, when Jacob journeys back to the Land of his forefathers. The Ga’on from Vilna points out that Jacob and Lavan built a couple of monuments: a gal-ed and the mitzpah. Gal-ed from the root of g.l.h. – to reveal, and mitzpah from tz.f.n. to hide (like the section tzafun in the hagada of Passover which is the time to hide the afikoman), maybe symbolic of the need to put boundaries in things that are obvious and less obvious, known and unknown. I’m still impressed that a reputable hotel in NV has a Hebrew name, but then again, we are on route to Zion…
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The fast of Tish’a Be’av catches us as we travel from Zion, Utah south. Temperatures creep to over 100F, and the bus a/c starts failing. Then we regain and hour entering Arizona… Some have never heard about this day before, and can’t fathom what’s so bad about losing “a temple”; some try it out, abstaining from solids; others skip breakfast and lunch. Few of us fast tenaciously, encouraging each other through the day. The drive continues. With the dizziness of late afternoon, we lean back and tell stories we barely hear and won’t remember. I find an article about Tish’a Be’av being all about confusion which in a strange way, that’s the only thing that makes sense. Finally we arrive safely. This is one evening that everybody shows up for dinner – at 8:03pm – on time.
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Last campfire of the trip under the desert starry night sky. The question before the group is, ‘if you could have lunch with someone who is no longer alive, who would you invite’? most ask to meet their grandparents and great grandparents whom they barely met or missed completely. One asks to meet Moses and hear about other journeys through the desert. What would Moses say to us, fellow travelers, some 9000 miles away and more than 3000 years in the future? pack light; be kind; bring food that everybody can eat; use your time well. There will be lots of times when there is “no service”; talk to your neighbor; input is welcome but don’t complain too much. Enjoy the views along the way. It will be over before you know it.