July 2018, Parshat Matot Massei

Dear Friends,

This week’s Parsha is the double portion of Matot and Maasei. Within the readings, the Torah recounts the entire journey of the people of Israel in the desert, listing many of the places that they travelled to until they were poised to enter the land of Israel. The Torah recounts that there were 42 places in total that the people travelled to while in the desert, which reflects G-d’s decree that they would wander in the desert for 40 years.

While some of the places that are listed are famously discussed in the Torah, such as Rephidim (where they encountered Amalek) and Mt Hor (where Aharon died) there are many other places listed which do not appear elsewhere in the entire story of the people in the desert recorded in the Torah. Presumably, this is because there was nothing of note that occurred there and as a result these places were not deemed necessary to mention prior to this full and complete list of places.

Sometimes, I reflect that living through a particular experience can feel like it will never end. For example, studying for a stressful exam can feel like it goes on and on, a year later, with a degree in hand, you don’t often hear of someone reflecting on one particular exam period. Rather, the memory that sustains is the end prize, the degree itself.

However, Rambam notes that Moshe was required to record the entire list of places that the people of Israel journeyed to, even though many of them do not feature in the stories that are recorded in the Torah. This alludes to the fact that great secrets were held in the 42 journeys that were undertaken by the people of Israel. The Magen Avraham notes that the number 42 holds a significant place in Jewish mysticism as it represents the 42 letter name of G-d and the embedded significance of this number of places should not be underestimated.

The wandering journeys of the people of Israel in the desert represent a difficult journey, but also reflect a greater message. Who among us has not experienced many wanderings in their existence? While G-d initially planned for them to enter the land of Israel upon Exodus from Egypt, the fact that they wandered seems to signify the plight of the Jewish people until the final redemption. It symbolises that while the end destination was important, the journey towards it was also just as significant.

Journeys have played a large role in the news this week. I read, along with millions of people, the story of the rescue of the 12 boys and their coach in Thailand. As they entered a cave on a journey as part of their initiation for their soccer team, the cave flooded and they were stuck for 9 days until they were discovered deep within the cave complex.

During the week I spoke with Mushka’s father, Rabbi Yosef Chaim Kantor, who is the Chief Rabbi of Thailand. He advised that he has been in contact with CNN and BBC journalists throughout the Saga and the response in Thailand has been overwhelming. While news of the boys’ disappearance resulted in vigils across the country, the resulting rescue resulted in massive street parties and elation tinged with sadness for the Thai Navy Seal Samarn Kunan who sadly lost his life trying to save the boys. Over these 10 days we saw global unity and assistance from countries all over the world including Australia and Israel. He said to me: “this is the story the world needs”.

While we watched along from the comfort of our homes the boys had to be taught diving lessons and how to swim out of the cave. Indeed it was the journey from the cave to safety that caused the concern as focus was not just on if the boys and their coach would survive but on ensuring the journey was conducted carefully to prevent fatalities. This very current example shows us very clearly how a journey to and from a destination is just as important as the end-destination in itself.

So too, as we go through our lives it is not just the destination, or collection of destinations, that are important, it is the journeys that we go through along the way that are important. As humans we learn from our experiences and often these journeys we go on, physically, spiritually, mentally and psychologically, provide us with resilience and strength to continue on.

Wishing you and your family well on the journey for the week ahead!

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Gabi