somewhere passed the middle of Exodus (the second book of the Torah) after year one, close to the middle of Numbers (book four) in year two, and you only actually complete the Torah at the end of year three. The other way to employ a triennial cycle is to read the first third of Bereisheet in week one of year one, move on to Noah on week two, but again only read one third of it, and read one third of each portion weekly, so that you at least get to the end of Deuteronomy every year. In the first year, you read the first third of each parashah; in the second year, the second third; and in the third year, you complete each Torah portion. Makes sense? Sort of? Well, at Ohev we employ the second method, and this year we're reading the first third of each portion. And this week, our section is really boring.
It's boring at first glance anyway. More interesting material appears in the last two-thirds of our parashah, but I'll be writing about that next year and the year after. This year, however, we are basically given a recap list of all the reststops along the Israelites' 40 years of wandering in the desert. Verse after verse
states: 'They set out from Libnah and encamped at Rissah. They set out from Rissah and encamped at Kehelath. They set out from Kehelath and encamped at Mount Shepher...' (Numbers, 33:21-23) For almost an entire (long) chapter. It is somewhat interesting to note that the Torah lists 20 places covered over 38 years of their sojourn; which reminds us that the Israelites did NOT wander constantly throughout the 40 years. When we imagine the Exodus, we sometimes picture constant marching and moving, when in reality they averaged 2 years in each encampment, each oasis in the desert, before setting out on the dusty road yet again.
But it is also true that if you dig a little bit deeper, the meaning behind this text isn't boring at all. The Israelites had been wandering for 40 years. FORTY years!!! That's a tremendous amount of time, and it's an incredible accomplishment. Stopping for a minute to list every single stop along that way is valuable. It's an opportunity to take stock and
appreciate the journey, not just the destination. If you were to take a few minutes right now and write down every place you've lived in your life, I'm sure each would bring back a flood of memories, some good and some not-so-good. To anyone else, you've only produced a 'boring' list of cities from around the country or the world. To you, each name connotes meaning and reminiscences; people you met along the way, as well as successes and disappointments that marked your time in each place. For the Israelites, this is not just a list of names. Each spot reminds them of God's miracles that kept them alive (manna, water, quail, etc.), as well as enemies defeated and obstacles overcome. And standing on the other end of this odyssey, the Israelites have now become a united, strong, cohesive nation; and that could only have happened because of the journey they undertook together.
It's important for us all to remember that our history shapes us. Good or bad, fun or depressing, everything we've been through has contributed to make us the people we are today. We should each remember to take time and look back at where we've been and how far we've come.
Perhaps more importantly also, we should feel, maybe even state out loud, how grateful we are for the experiences that influenced our lives. Say 'Thank you'! No matter how long you have lived or what you have seen or done, you have been through a journey as well. We each have a history that is meaningful to us. This week, as we read the travels and travails of our ancestors, let us remember that their story is ours as well. We wouldn't be here if it weren't for them. And so even a simple list of all their pit stops is actually incredibly significant. It reminds us where they began, what they went through, and who they had become when it was all said and done. We carry their story with us as we now continue, with gratitude and humility, to write our own.
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