Where We’ve Been and Where We’re Going (Masei)

By Reb David

This post is part of a series culminating in Tisha b’Av, entrance gate to the High Holy Days. These weeks of Bein Metzarim (“between the straits”) represent a diminution of our usual spiritual voltage and joy as we approach Tisha b’Av, the lowest day of the Jewish spiritual year.

The Book of Numbers closes with this week’s portion, Masei –named for the account of our Biblical ancestors’ “journeys” from Egypt to the Land of Promise. Each of their 42 stops is recorded, and many of their place names are shorthand for pivotal events occurring there along the way (e.g. the Crossing of the Sea, bitter waters, Golden Calf, death of Aaron, rebellions, battles, etc.). Only after recounting the trip does Torah bring our ancestors to the banks of the Jordan River in preparation to cross into Israel.

Encampment_of_Israelites,_Mount_SinaiTorah’s stops and stories offer a map of both a physical and spiritual journey. Journeys are more than destinations: each journey has paths, stops and narratives rarely clear at the start. Where we go and who we are when we arrive depend on our route, experiences along the way, and how they changed us.

As for our ancestors’ storied journey from Egypt to Israel, so for us. We can’t know where we’re going until we know where we’ve been. This axiom of spiritual life is emphatically true right now, as we journey toward Tisha b’Av and the High Holy Days. We can’t know where we’re going in the year ahead – we can’t heed the call of teshuvah (return) – until we see where we’ve journeyed, how we’ve strayed, what promises we’ve broken and what fences need mending. Just as our ancestors couldn’t cross the Jordan into the Promised Land before reviewing their journey, we can’t cross into our own inner Land of Promise – to which the High Holidays call us home – until we review our own journey.

Where have we been, and where are we going? It’s time to ask, it’s time to tell the story of our year, and soon it will be time to return home. Will we be ready?

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