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Parashat Matot-Masei   Bet Shalom July 2020 Zoom

07/20/2020 10:51:06 AM


Irene Stern Friedman


This double parasha brings us to the end of the book of Bemidbar.  Wouldn’t we all like to enter the Promised Land about now, the land of milk and honey and health.

Rabbi Anne Brener wrote that The Israelites stand at the edge of the Promised Land, following Moses's last military campaign. Before the people can leave the wilderness, the soldiers must go through rituals of purification. They must stay  "outside the camp for seven days. " Everyone who has "slain a person or touched a corpse shall purify himself “  Rabbi Brener wrote in 2012 that "This care for returning soldiers has relevance for todays veterans.” Presumably she referred to PTSD. Soldiers still must decompress.
But now it rings true in a new way, People who have been exposed to Coronavirus must quarantine  for 14 days to determine oil they are pure or contagious. 

We read that the people traveled from Kivrot Hata'avah.  Numbers 33:17 .
The names of the places hint at a deeper meaning, The words Kivrot Hata'avah mean "burial place of desires."
Rabbi Yitzchok of Vorki tells us that the Torah is hinting to us here to keep a distance from desires.  A person needs to be on guard that his desires do not cause him an early burial. How can one overcome his desires? Says Rabbi Yitzchok, "by focusing on the words 'they traveled' in the desert and remembering that we, too, are only traveling temporarily in this world on our path to the next world. Therefore, we should not give in to immediate temporal desires which can destroy our lives in this world and impact our life in the world to come.”   The modern translation is “wear your mask and keep six feet part from other people.”

This 3 wk period we are in-between the Fast of 17th of Tammuz and Tisha B’Av is observed by avoiding haircuts, purchasing new clothing, holding weddings, or enjoying music. Weddings have been cancelled or reorganized into very private affairs. Haircuts recently became legal again but still are fraught with exposure to someone close to our mouth and noses.  Torah speaks to us all the time. We may think our current unhappy Covid-19 situation is novel. This week's readings show us that is incorrect.

It is a basic Jewish principle that everything in the Torah is eternal and has relevance at all times and in all places. Based on this idea, the Baal Shem Tov teaches that everything in Torah is also relevant to every individual Jew at all times and in all places.
To get from Egypt to Israel took 42 stages, over a period of 40 years. Each stage of the journey was determined by G-d-- when the pillar of cloud moved, the people followed. Whenever the cloud stopped so did they.   

The first verse of the parshah states, "These are the journeys of the Children of Israel, who went forth from the land of Egypt..."
Chazel teach that the verse has an even deeper meaning -- it refers to the journeys through life of every individual Jew. Moreover, each Jew's life may be analyzed in terms of these 42 journeys of Bnei Yisrael from Egypt to Israel. The word Mitzrayim, Egypt, is related to the Hebrew word metzar, which means a constricted or limiting place, a strait. It comes from the word, tzar, narrow. Every person, in his or her life has tzarot, tsurris, situations which the Torah describes as a metzar, a limitation and constriction, where the person feels that something is obstructing him from behaving in the right way. In order to get out of this metzar, a person has to exert energy. When you're finished with that problem you breathe a sigh of relief: "Whew, I did it and I didn't think I could. I've gotten out of that tight spot.”

The verse means that the life of each one of us, from birth, is a succession of tight spots followed by relief and expansion. It means that at every given time in our life, we are given certain obstacles and certain tests. These are the tight spots. Of course, these situations are not meant to stifle us or to make us surrender. On the contrary, through overcoming these difficulties, we become stronger people.

This is life. What may be difficult at the age of five is simple at the age of ten, and what's difficult at the age of ten is a joke at the age of twenty. A newlywed is getting used to marriage. That's a big struggle. But when people are married for 25 years and are marrying off their children there's a whole different set of difficulties and problems. Then there are the problems that come with older age and adult children. Every stage in life has its own qualities. G-d is constantly placing us in new situations, and we have to deal with them and grow through them. This is a succession of metzarim.

It is important to remain focused on the goals toward which we are moving. In that way, with G-d's help, we will find the strength and courage to stand up to the myriad of challenges life may present. It can be the journey to adulthood, to a new job, to retirement, or through illness or the death of someone we love. It can seem an unpleasant journey to hospital or  hospice, but that is the task.

In our yard in Tucson, we had an agave plant. After many years it threw up a shoot--a stick which grew visibly each day and soon was 20 feet tall with blooms on the top. Then the plant was perfect and died. We are people and not plants. We overcome one obstacle and go on to another. We don’t die and get taken to be made into mulch.

When do our metzarim end? When we conquer all our trials. It ends at the end of a person's life. In other words, the beginning is Mitzrayim --the birth; coming into Eretz Yisrael at the end of the forty-second journey is when a person completes his journey in this world and comes into the land of the World to Come.  It’s no more different from this life than this life is from being an unborn child in the mother’s womb.

The important thing is to know that you have to keep going. Just keep going from one journey to the next. To a person who says despairingly, "Look how far I have to go," the Torah says, "Do not give up. After all, look how far you've come. A little further; a little more effort, and you will reach the next stage. Don't take on the whole journey at once. Go one step, one stage at a time. Set your goals on the next stop." Eventually, all of us will get there. Each of us will experience our own individual redemption, and the Jewish people as a whole will also achieve redemption. 

Someday we will worship back in the shul. Someday we will have 100 people eat together. Someday we will fly on an airplane to Israel or wherever our children live and see them again.  We must have faith and trust as the Jewish people have always had to do.

Fri, September 17 2021 11 Tishrei 5782