Sunday, August 3, 2008

A Journey. Faithfully. Not Journey's "Faithfully"

Last week’s Torah portion, Masey, includes a listing of all the places the Israelites stopped on their 40-year journey through the desert after leaving Egypt, on their way to the Holy Land. What is the purpose of this detailed, itemized list of locations? And why such meandering? If you plot out the list of locations on a map, it looks like G-d led the Israelites on a wild goose chase.

(Actually, it looks like our 30-minute tour of Modi’in on the number 1 bus to get us to the mall that’s 2 kilometres away. But I digress.)

Our ancestors toured the land. They were led east, then north, then west, then east again, probably a short turn south, before heading back up to their final destination. The usual discussion is that the detours were necessary. It’s easy to take the Israelites out of Egypt, but not so easy to take Egypt out of the Israelites. We needed those 40 years to get de-Egyptized. To get the idea that we were slaves out of our system. To learn what freedom was and to not be terrified of it.

But last week I read a different, but similar, take on the subject. I apologize, I can’t remember who wrote it or where I saw it, but the author posits that perhaps equally important is just the journey itself. Each place is mentioned in the Torah, implying that each place has importance. Why else mention it specifically? Although, in looking back at our journey - crossing Canada - I specifically mentioned Merritt, BC and Brooks, AB. I talked about Falcon Lake, Kenora and WaWa. Are those places important? Do they have significance? Only in that they are markers, place holders for our journey. It lends credence to the story. It’s like a bibliography of our trip. If you’re writing a book that contains facts you want your readers to believe, you will list your sources. “Some guys said that...” won’t hold water.

Saying we left Brooks, Alberta gives our story a source. The reader can go to a map and look up Brooks, Alberta and then look up Falcon Lake. They have a fact to base our story on, to give it weight. Saying we left “someplace in Alberta” and “arrived somewhere in Manitoba” still gives the reader an idea of the journey, but has less impact, less truth. Saying we left “somewhere” and arrived “somewhere else” has no meaning at all.

Of course the journey is important. Judaism expects its adherents to be present in every moment, whether the journey is life, a job hunt, a vacation to the mountains or a trip to the supermarket. There will always be moments during every journey that are important, that can have an impact, that we should be taking note of. Of course, there will always be important moments that will be missed, as well. Those have an impact, too.

Taking note of the locations that make up our journey, whether they are towns or emotional landmarks gives us sources. It lets us see where we’ve come from, how far we’ve traveled, and where we’re heading. It lets us know if we’ve taken a wrong turn, if we need to travel faster or slower or if we just need to stop a take a break. Journeys are a series of learning events. Each stop on the journey out of Egypt was another step in emotionally leaving Egypt behind as well.

The irony of reading this Torah portion this week, our third week in Israel was not lost on us. Crossing Canada was a number of steps in emotionally leaving behind our life in Vancouver. Then we left Canada. Then we left North America altogether. Each week in Israel brings us closer to Israeli life. We still feel like we’re camping, since our lift still hasn’t arrived, but each week brings us yet another “normal” item. We now have our refrigerator. We have a stove. And Thursday, G-d willing, we will have a diningroom table. Each little steps on our journey.

That fridge, stove and table will help us bring together people for meals. And may each of those meals bring us a step closer to the day that this period of the 9 days, a period of mourning leading up to the fast day of Tisha B’Av, will become a time of joy and celebration instead of lamentation and tears.

No comments: