I’m Here for the Journey, Wherever It Takes Me
In Parashat Mas’ei, the last reading of the Book of Numbers, which we read last week, Jewish text examines and exalts the importance of journey. In this parashah, the Israelites are concluding their expedition to the Promised Land – but, instead of bringing them straight through to their destination, the text spends 46 lines reviewing the stops our ancestors made along the way. Interestingly, these locations are not described as the ending places of shorter pieces of the trip, but as the starting points of the next leg of the trip. This distinction is clear in the way the text reads, “…they set out from…” as opposed to something like “…they settled at…” This structure is so significant that the Torah portion itself is called Mas’ei, which literally means “journeys” or “marches,” referring to multiple pieces of our ancestors’ trip. The Torah, filled with countless lessons, intimates a critical one here: a journey is not one large, singular event, but a compilation of experiences that constitutes parts of a whole. Each experience is valued both as its own distinct adventure and as a contribution to the greater journey.
Reading this parashah, I could not help but find connections between Torah and my own life. Like the Israelites, I am nearing the end of one journey as an Eisendrath legislative assistant at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and approaching my own Promised Land, law school. After five years in Washington, D.C., I am in a transition period, readying myself to build a new home. But in the time that is left, there certainly still are lessons to be learned. I know I must keep pressing forward with my eyes and ears open, just as my ancestors before me did. I know I must also reflect on my own journey, which is full of unique experiences and education.
One piece of the Israelites’ journey stood out to me – the recognition of the death of Aaron at Mount Hor, on Rosh Chodesh Av. (Rosh Chodesh means “head of the month,” and in this case, indicates the first day of Av, the fifth month of the Jewish calendar.) Parashat Mas’ei, typically read around Rosh Chodesh Av, is a reminder of Aaron and the mourning period that followed his death, as well as the journey that continued as the younger generations went on to the Promised Land.
At the beginning of my fellowship, my grandfather, Alvin, passed away. Although the days leading to his death were incredibly difficult, they brought me closer to the people I love. The week I spent living in close quarters with my family, each of us taking turns holding my grandfather’s hand, until the morning of Yom Kippur when his soul left his body, taught me more about love, life, and family than I thought there was to know. That week was both a single experience in a life and an entire journey unto itself. It was profound and transformative and has influenced my decisions, relationships, and actions since, and I anticipate will continue to do so forever. The recollection of Aaron’s death in Mas’ei speaks to me personally for this reason, as my grandfather’s unveiling fast approaches and I begin my own journey to become a lawyer, following in his footsteps. It is significant that Parashat Mas’ei includes remembrance of an individual’s death, for it speaks to the journey of a lifecycle, and to the important transitions that occur within each journey.
The willingness to find value in each experience – good or bad – and to continue moving forward, both as individuals from journey to journey and as a people from generation to generation – are the most fundamental lessons Parashat Mas’ei can teach us. People ask me all the time what I will do after law school. Although I don’t yet know my ultimate destination, I am open to wherever the journey takes me.