Martin Buber said, “all journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware”. I first heard it on a job, but maybe that whole job’s purpose was to learn that saying… it took hearing it more than once to remember, look it up, write it down… We think we’re going from point A to B in order to do X, yet on route, “coincidentally”, we come across something – or someone – different we had no idea of before, and end up elsewhere, physically, emotionally, spiritually.
Why is it so?
This week’s Torah reading is called “journeys”. It’s actually a double portion here and a single one in Israel, so we’re finally “catching up”. Our “meeting place” is at the end of the Book of Bamidbar (Numbers), at the end of our journeys.
Wait, journeys?? Why is this word in the plural form? Wasn’t it one journey, just going from Egypt through the same desert? And while we’re on it, actually why did the Children of Israel have to wander around in the desert? What was the merit of going from one place to another, if they were given the same manna and same water anyway? Once the decree was made to stay in the desert for 40 years (38 and a half), why not just sit somewhere and wait for time to go by, play cards, watch TV, whatever, till the new generation is ready?
The early Chasidic master, the Ba’al Shem Tov, said, “All these 42 journeys are with each one of us, from the day we are born till the day we pass to the other world… just like the Exodus from Egypt”: In the beginning, we are part of the Eternal, but then we’re placed in a narrow place (Egypt’s Hebrew name is Mitzrayim which comes from “narrow”, “trouble”). Our whole existence becomes tight – all we can focused on is ‘me myself and I’. Then slowly, we emerge into the world. At first, we are well cared for, fed and sheltered, but that’s not enough. Our goal is to get to the “Promised Land”. In some way, this is one journey, but in others, each stop along the way is critical, because on it hinges the next stop. Therefore, the text describing the journey is very explicit. It could have said something like; ‘they traveled from Haifa to Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Eilat’, but instead it’s more like: they traveled from Haifa to Tel Aviv and camped there; then they traveled from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and camped there’.
Kabalistically, each stop is an opportunity to repair something, to “fix the sparks”. This is true for the individual as well as for the people. Another ‘proof’ here is that then as now, individually and communally, we stay a different length of time in different places, supposedly, since in each we need to do different “work” on ourselves before we’re ready to move on. No doubt, there are moments of great frustration, but often when we look back, ‘it all makes sense’, or almost all… this is also the reason why “camping” in each location was important. It tells us we need to pay attention to where we are and the “lessons” we’re handed, and send real time in each stop. Rabbi Yitzchak Meir of Gur said, “In every generation there is a new understanding of the Exodus from Egypt; and not just in each generation, but in each person, there is a point of freedom / redemption which is an explanation to the Exodus from Egypt. That point a person must find out between him and himself”.
As I was writing these “lofty” words, I took a break, browsing through facebook. Sadly, strangely and other adjectives, this is where now new is. To my horror, I learned through posts, of the sudden, heartbreaking death of David Moglen, my Bar Mitzvah student and family friend some 25 years ago.
Tragedy is no time for theories. Theories are good, and can be helpful, but as a dear teacher and friend of mine used to say, “life is an emotional experience, not a cognitive one”. We know things in our mind, and still must have time to process and grieve. In such times, there is no way to explain.
The school I’m going to for the Maharat program is in “hot water” with the “OU” (Orthodox Union) over the issue of “women rabbis”. And what do I think? I think it’s time for the conversation to enter the ‘grey’; it’s no longer a black and white. Women within Orthodoxy are coming forward, like the daughters of Tzlofchad, and some Moses needs to thoughtfully answer in some form of affirmative. They / we are not asking to be men; they / we are not asking to replace the men; But to have recognition and respect for acquiring knowledge, and a way to serve the community with that.