Journeys

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.

Wilderness

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.

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6 responses to this post.

  1. First, that is a ridiculously stunning photo of you AND your work. Secondly, isn’t it all about the journey? At least, that’s what I keep telling myself.

    Then again, I’d like to think it’s the only way to the Promised Land, because this journey stinks rotten beans.

    Bashana Ha’ba’ah b’li sartan u’b’Yerushalaym!

    Sing a Mishebeirach for me, Sally!

    Reply

    • Firstly: Thanks for the compliment. David took the picture. He gets all the credit.

      Secondly: You are on the congregation’s Mi Sheberach list and in my personal prayers. This journey does suck, that’s why it’s good in this case to keep your eye on the prize. Still, hopefully there will be some good moments along the road too. The Israelites complained constantly while wandering through the desert and there were many hardships along the way. They didn’t know whether they’d make it either. Still, it was along that path that they became Am Yisrael. Somehow, in the face of cancer, though, all of those platitudes seem trite.

      Journeys change us. Yours will, G-d willing, turn you into a cancer-free woman.

      Reply

  2. Posted by Libby Tulin on July 30, 2011 at 7:42 am

    Beautifully stated. Unfortunately, I think that many of us have become so dependent on immediate product/response/gratification that we have no patience for getting where we want to get. Trying to find the balance in a techy age is tough. Trying to get kids not to text while driving, for a friend to turn off a phone while you are together, robs people of the paths in life (development of relationships is a journey!) Maybe our journeys are faster, but slowing down only allows us to digest and process our decisions along the way.

    Reply

  3. Posted by beth levine on July 30, 2011 at 8:36 am

    What a great post and a beautiful picture of you. It is model-like / model worthy. Being in graduate school right now, and having been there before years earlier, I completely understand how you feel. It is hard though to focus on the process when you are being pushed through the mill or the grinder. I am trying though.

    However, in general, as I’ve grown older, I think I am learning to enjoy the process of life, smell the roses, etc. much more so than when I was younger. Even the learning is part of the process. 🙂

    Reply

  4. Posted by Richard on July 31, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    A great little D’var Torah, leading one into one’s own thoughts of process and product, journey and destination.

    About the landscape photo: It looks like the Dead Sea and the land sloping down eastward toward it. The wadi in the upper left gives a sense of scale in the middle ground, but it is hard to get a sense of scale in the foreground. Where were you standing? What is the point on the Dead Sea shore where we are looking (assuming it is the Dead Sea)? Can you say a few words about the landscape picture?

    A r’fuah shleima to the friend you mention in the column, and also to the writer of the comment (if they are not one and the same).

    Reply

  5. Posted by Sally Levy on December 22, 2011 at 1:59 am

    Take time to smell the roses…thanks for the reminder

    Reply

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