2,878 miles (4,632 km!); 27 happy teens; 2 counselors; 1 driver; about 10 different over-night sites and possibly 60-80 bathrooms; 4 National Parks; 2 dams; 4 lakes; lots of trees and even more – squirrels; 1 museum; 1 Golden Gate Bridge; 1 Pacific Ocean; 1 repower outage; 1 tour guide, excited everybody is back home safely.
We spend a significant amount of time on hiking and learning how to hike; how to pack our backpacks have enough water, comfortable, “sole-full’ shoes; hats that shade us from the sun.
It was an above average rainy year in the Western U.S. so there is still snow around Tahoe and lots of water everywhere. The Yosemite falls are gushing; the mist trail is misty; the moss is so so green. Everything is amazingly beautiful. I want to show them everything: here’s a plant; here’s a tree; look, footprints of deer; see those rocks? The layers? The cliffs? They take pictures and share them with the world.
I’m reminded of my days, many years ago, hiking with another teen group while working at the Society for Protection of Nature in Israel. Once again, I have great appreciation, even admiration to nature around me. I walk around with a feeling of great excitement: look! look!!! I drag them to yet another peak to wow at the view stretched before us, “common, we can do it, let’s go”.
And yet, that love of the Land I grew up with, that unexplained feeling between G-d, His People and that tiny plot of Land the size of New Jersey on the other side of the world that can’t be described in words but is so evident when there, is a different story. I find out that try as I might, I don’t quite know how to share that here.
There are times that the trip is a blur – like the famous joke: it’s Tuesday so this must be the Grand Canyon. But there are also moments that we slow down, that we sit and “kumbaya”, and think about what we’ve done; how different places impact us differently.
In the last Torah portion of the Book of Numbers, the journey of the Children of Israel is described in rhythmic pattern, telling us about every place separately by repeating the words ‘vayis’u vayachanu’ in between – and they traveled and they camped. And they traveled and they camped.
And the question is, why not just give us a “laundry list” of all the 42 sites along the way? Why the added “and the camped”?
And one of the explanations I particularly like is that in our journeys every place has significance; every place has merit.
We may be in some place that is not so attractive; the day seems to have been rough; we were faced with unexpected challenges; and our thoughts wonder to doubt.
We start thinking about how we’re not supposed to be here. I should not have done this.
But the Torah reminds us here that in our journey in life, every place we go through, has meaning; every place provides us with an opportunity to grow; every place propels forward, closer to our goal.
Ultimately, from Avraham on, we are a people of a journey, But – Journeying is not just walking mindlessly on and on. It is also about processing what happens along the way.
In Hebrew, the word used for camping, vayachanu – ויחנו, shares its root with the word, chen – חן, grace.
We find this in Jeremiah, the prophet we come to especially at this season of the three weeks before 9 Be’av:
מצא חן במדבר
The people found favor, grace, a resting place, in the desert –
Our journey by definition must be made of both – travel and camping; moving forward and pausing to process. We need to progress, but we should not run aimlessly ahead.
The combination of the two makes for a healthy journey in our people’s life as well as in our personal life. May we find that balance and so continue forward.