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July 17, 2020 – Matot Masei

Shabbat Message from Rabbi Brigitte Rosenberg

Amid this week’s double parashah, Matot-Masei, there are 49 verses, a lot of detail, describing the 42 journeys of the Jewish people through the desert, to the Land of Israel. It is almost like reading the journal of an explorer, with specific details about departure points, encampments, and destinations. In this moment it seems that it is not about Egypt or even about reaching the Promised Land, but rather about the journey, itself, the day-to-day details and moments experienced.

From the moment that God said to Abraham, “Lech Lecha, Go forth from … to a place that I will show you,” journeying and journeys have been a central theme for our people, as our people have been journeying from land to land, from exile to exile, from experience to experience for thousands of years.

Rabbi Benjy Levy teaches, “when traveling long distances, people tend to look up towards the horizon; and the trouble with the horizon is that when you finally think you are about to reach it; you discover that it is even further away. And you start trying to reach it all over again.”

As I read the words of this week’s parashah and think about Rabbi Levy’s teaching, I cannot help but think that this parashah, this Torah is meant for us, in this precise moment in time, four months into our pandemic journey. Four months ago, we began the COVID 19 pandemic journey. We have journeyed, from the safety of our homes, watching the days and weeks pass, hoping to reach the horizon, only to find that when we thought we might be there, there was more road to travel. Just this week, Joe said to me, “mom, remember when we were waiting for the virus to peak in mid-April and thinking that’s all we needed?” We laughed together and then sighed as we realized that there seems no end in sight on this crazy pandemic journey.

In this moment, I assume that you, like me are tired. Tired of sifting through the seemingly endless and ever-changing information about this virus, tired of making decisions about what you will do to protect yourself and loved ones, tired of not being able to do all of the things you would normally do, and tired of worrying about this virus and everything it has and will affect. I imagine that all of us are simply ready for this journey to be finished.

And, yet, I think we have miles and miles to go before this journey will be done. Perhaps this is why this week’s parashah is speaking, calling out to us in this moment. What is it saying?? First, I think it’s reminding us that journeys are never perfect, never easy, and often filled with bumps, mishaps, unimagined obstacles, frustration, tears, and sometimes even the desire to quit, to throw in the towel and forget the journey. Think about it, the Israelite’s journey was not supposed to last 40 years. They were supposed to leave Egypt, make it to Sinai and receive the Torah, and shortly thereafter enter the Promised Land. But that was not the case, things happened – some within their control and some out of their control, and their journey lasted much longer than anyone imagined. Yet, in the midst of their journey incredible things happened, and this parashah reminds us that more often than not, it isn’t about the destination or the endpoint, but rather about the journey itself – about all of the moments and the experiences that are felt from beginning to end because it is in these moments that growth and blessings happen. It is in these moments when we learn just how strong and resilient, we really are.

Yes, we’re tired, we’re mad, sad, and frustrated not knowing when this will end, but if we stop and take a moment – take this Shabbat – to reflect on the journey of these past four months, I bet we will find some beautiful moments and blessings sprinkled amidst the moments of chaos and mayhem. We, Jews, know long journeys, and because of them, we are a strong and resilient people, who always seem to find beautiful moments and blessings amid crazy and chaos.

When we find ourselves on a journey, our tradition offers us Tefillat HaDerech, the Traveler’s prayer. May it be Your will, Adonai, our God and the God of our ancestors, that You lead us toward peace, guide our footsteps toward peace, and make us reach our desired destination for life, gladness, and peace.

On this Shabbat and on the many Shabbatot that we will experience during this pandemic journey, let us remember that we are not alone, that we journey together with one another and under the sheltering presence of God. May the gifts of shalom, peace, and shalem, wholeness help us find the strength and the resilience to journey on!

Amen and Shabbat Shalom