Make a Fixed Time for Study

עשה תורתך קבע – אמור מעט ועשה הרבה

Its the Journey! אֵלֶּה מַסְעֵי בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל

Posted by rabbiart on July 26, 2008

Its time for the summing up.  In last Shabbat’s parshah, which is read most years with this parshah, Moshe was commanded to take one final action, after which he would be “gathered to his people.” (BaMidbar 31:2)  Now, in the final chapters of the book, we read an accounting of the journey.  We begin by escaping from Mitzrayim while the Egyptians are burying their first born.  We go from place to place over some thirty plus verses.  The story pauses to recount the death of Aaron in the fortieth year at the age of 123 years old.  It resumes for eight more verses until we reach “the present”, camped by the banks of the Jordan river in the plains of Moav.

Each verse that recounts the journey begins the same way; with the word וַיִּסְעוּ (va’yis’ue) – they journeyed.

Why is it important to recall the specific steps of the journey by mentioning place names? We, the engaged reader and Torah student, would have expected a recounting of significant events and memorable features of this forty years of going walkabout.  The miraculous escape, the miraculous splitting of Yam Suf, the miraculous giving of the Torah, the miraculous manna (literally “portion”, but colloquially – magic food), the miracle of Miriam’s well.  Maybe also we would be reminded of the “downs” of the journey; amazing incident of the golden calf, the rebellion of Korach, all the complaining, the moaning, the groaning, the crying, the lack of faith.  Instead we get place names!

Why?

The original Clinton campaign was famous for its slogan “It’s the economy, stupid”. Being Jewish is to participate in a campaign; not for stupidity or by stupid people, but to become enlightened.  Not with any kind of enlightenment, but with the light of the Torah.  To be Jewish is to be on a journey. The Torah, in this parshah, gives us a literal road-map of the journey taken by “the greatest generation” of our people.  This is a generation mostly maligned, left to die in the desert, and forgotten.  But… this is the generation that walked our people out of the depths of Mitzrayim to the heights of Har Sinai.  What generation ever did more for us in the entire history of the Jewish people.

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