This week, with Parshat Masei, we complete the reading of the book of Numbers. The parshah begins with a description of the journeys of the children of Israel as they make their way through the wilderness towards the Promised Land. The Torah recounts each stop on their path, sometimes describing the setting, or reminding the reader of something that happened in that place. An entire chapter is devoted to the brief review of these wanderings, mentioning forty-two encampments where the people stopped along their travels.
The Torah alternately talks about these trips as “going forth to journey” and “journeying to go forth.” Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch suggests that the Torah’s different description of their expedition describes two contradictory attitudes of the Jews at the time. For some of them, the purpose of “going forth” was the journey itself. The Jews left Egypt as a disorganized “mixed multitude” of former slaves. By the end of their wanderings, they would be a people. For others, the point of their voyage out of Egypt was only about “going forth.” It was about ending their slavery, getting out of a bad situation, and ending up somehow free.
Knitters often describe themselves as “process knitters” or “product knitters.” Process knitters enjoy the practice of knitting and the end result is less important. Product knitters do their craft because they want a particular hand-knitted item and the best way to get it is to make it. The way I am as a knitter is the opposite of the way I am in life. When it comes to knitting, I am truly a process knitter. I love the act itself and when the product doesn’t quite fit, I’m not too upset because I got my yarn’s worth out of the work that went into it. Of course, I’m thrilled when something I make comes out perfectly, but I always have my eye on that next ball of yarn.
Unfortunately, I often find that when it comes to life, I am the opposite. When I want something, I want it yesterday, and I often don’t enjoy the process of getting the thing that I wanted. How I wish I could go back and repeat college or graduate school. While there, I was fully focused on grades, achievement – Phi Beta Kappa. I cared so much about product, that I often missed the point of the process. I could have learned so much more! I could have gotten additional enjoyment out of it too.
There are other times in life, however, when it is not only good, but absolutely crucial to focus on product. As I watch a friend struggling with the early stages of a cancer diagnosis, for example, I know that there is little to nothing about the process to enjoy. She must focus with a vengeance on product – becoming cancer-free. The process will be miserable, painful, and often discouraging. Hopefully there will be a few moments along the way with tender and kind memories, but for the most part, I suspect, the journey will be long and painful.
The key, as with most things in life is balance. On the High Holy Days, the Rabbi always shares the poem that begins, “Birth is a beginning and death a destination, but life is a journey.” Life is a journey – sometimes to and other times through, but whichever way we are going, it is so important to stop and be aware. When we are traveling to, and we must focus our eyes on our desired goal, we should try to take notice of the wildflowers along the road. If we are traveling through – we should still make sure to think about where we want to end up. It’s the only way to the Promised Land.