It’s a nice coincidence for me that right after we’ll read Parshat Mas’ei this Shabbat, I’ll embark on two road trips–one to visit my mother in Toronto, and the other a family excursion to Virginia. As a young child, I would sit in the back seat on drives to New York or Chicago, so road trips are a part of my family story, and I’ve tried to make good memories for our children with stops at various attractions in Upstate New York along the way to Canada. How successful have I been? I suppose that’s a question for the passengers.
As we come to the end of the Wilderness Book, Sefer Bemidbar, God instructs Moshe to record each and every place name where the Israelites encamped during their 40-year road trip–42 places in all. Some of the names are familiar from elsewhere in the Torah; others appear here and only here. With few exceptions, all we are taught is that the Israelites traveled from one place and encamped in the next; then, they traveled from that next place on to another next place. The content of their experience is limited to that. “They left Hollis Hills and they encamped in Syracuse; they left Syracuse and encamped in Kingston.” What did they do along the way? Did they stop to play minigolf? Did they get ice cream? The Torah doesn’t inform us.
The Torah introduces the list in an interesting fashion: “Moses recorded the starting points of their various marches as directed by the LORD. Their marches, by starting points, were as follows:” (Numbers 33:2). Notice how the terms “starting points” and “marches” have been arranged in the verse–if it were a poem, we would see a-b-b-a structure. In Hebrew, it’s motzaeihem lemas’eihem and mas’eihem lemotzaeihem. But one commentator saw deeper symbolic meaning in this reversal of words–as it were, a difference in attitudes between the One who planned the itinerary and the ones who kept packing and unpacking. On Shabbat morning, we will discuss the Biblical road trip and how we can make meaning of a journey.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,