MOS 5-Point Parasha - Matot-Masei 5779

"Guidance for our Journeys"


Here is our weekly "5-Point Parasha", a short list of what we are enjoying or pondering, as it relates to life and Torah.

Rabbi Sherril shares about the parasha:

This week’s Torah reading, which closes out the Book of Numbers/Bamidbar, is a doubled portion: we read parashiot Mattot and Masei. In parasha Masei, we learn about the journeys of the Israelites – 42 journeys, actually.

     The text begins with “These are the journeys of the children of Israel going out of the land of Egypt. … They journeyed from… and camped in…” (Numbers 33:1-5)” And then, it describes each of the 42 individual stages of the Israelites’ passage between Egypt and the Promised Land.

     Rabbi David Zaslow teaches that the people gave each location a name based on the spiritual and psychological lesson they learned there. Each stop was a new opportunity to acknowledge and experience the Divine on the journey. Today the etymology of the names of the 42 resting places can be studied and treated as a psycho-spiritual template to apply to our own lives.

     This emphasis on each stage of the journey reminds us that each stop along the way has significance. Even though, at the moment, some of these stops may appear to be setbacks or wrong turns, in the end, each one has a role to play in shaping us and making us who we are. And from this we understand that with each new Egypt, a new exodus must be discovered.

     More than two hundred years ago, the Baal Shem Tov, founder of Hasidism, taught that everyone stops at each of the 42 resting places during their lives.

     According to the Baal Shem Tov, the 42 encampments from Egypt to the Promised Land are replayed in every individual’s life, in the journey from our soul’s descent to this world at birth until our return to our Source. A person’s birth is like the Israelites leaving the narrows of Egypt for a new life. And the Promised Land symbolizes the mystery that lies beyond death.

     The word Mitzrayim, Egypt, is related to the Hebrew word metzar, which means a constricted or limiting place. It comes from the word, tzar, narrow. Every person, in his or her life has situations which the Torah describes as a metzar: a limitation or a constriction. And when we manage to escape the metzar, it is as if we have left that place and gone to a place that we call merchav, a wide-open place, a freer place, a personal exodus. And when we’ve passed through safely, we breathe a sigh of relief.

     But even more than just describing our journey through life, the text gives us guidance for how to manage those transitions, by telling us “vayisu, vayachanu” / “and they journeyed, and they camped.” Each journey that we take optimally should involve both movement and rest, action and reflection.

     A spiritual tool that may be helpful to us on our earthly journeys is the ancient mystical prayer “Ana b’koach,” which is mentioned in the commentaries for this parasha, and which holds within it the 42-letter name of G*d. This is a prayer about transitions, movement from one way of being to another. It begins, “Source of Mercy, with loving strength untie our tangles,” and continues: “…please keep us safe…guide Your folk.” (Reb Zalman’s translation) This prayer may assist us during transition times in our lives: to help unstick us so we may begin a new journey, or to help us move forward on a journey we have already begun.

     Our lives are an evolving journey. Healthy journeys include both movement and rest. Incorporating times for movement and times for rest sustains us and facilitates our passage through the wilderness of our lives.

     Make this Shabbat a Sabbath of rest, and of peace - Shabbat shalom!


Rabbi Sherril is listening to and loving this beautiful version of Ana b'koach:

What Cantor Heather just recorded:

Click for the recording of the Karliner Dance Niggun that she recorded at MakeWay studios after our recent retreat.

What Rabbi Schachar enjoyed learning about this week:

Rabbi Schachar recalled the following "journey" story when he escorted a caterpillar back outside:

One day, walking and gazing down at the sidewalk carefully, Reb Zalman spotted a centipede. Bending down, he gently scooped the centipede up and placed it on his arm. As it undulated up and down Zalman’s arm, my rebbe spoke quietly, “Baruch HaShem, Leila leybn, that we can gain such wisdom from this little creature! Look at its many legs. You know, we are like the centipede. We each walk on hundreds of feet and it is only somewhere in our lives that we discover our genuine two feet. All the others feel inauthentic, unreal, like marshmallows, like pillows. We don’t really feel anything beneath our feet and we aren’t really connected to the vitality of the earth beneath them. But when we discover our ‘real’ feet, we begin to feel deeply connected to holy ground, just as Moshe Rabbeinu felt before the burning bush. With our real feet, we feel heat and cold, and pain. We feel softness and harshness, and sharpness — we feel Life!  Make sure, Leila leybn, that you find your authentic feet and walk honestly and humbly on them.

Years later, I reminded Reb Zalman of his words about the centipede. My rebbe smiled and simply asked me, “So, nu, have you found your feet yet?” When I answered that I thought so, he laughed and said, “Baruch HaShem.” - Rabbi Leila Gal Berner

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