July 9, 2021
Are we there yet? Almost. Forty years have passed since we have left Egypt. The Children of Israel are at the entrance of the Promised Land. This ragtag group of refugees and slaves have now matured into a confident nation, battle tested and somewhat prepared for its new challenge.
Our double Torah portion that concludes the Book of Numbers, Matot-Maasei (Numbers 30:2-36:13), looks back and reviews the forty-two locations where we stayed during our journey in the wilderness. Most of us, after a trip and years later as we recall the journey, remind each other of the places visited, the adventures shared, and of course, the meals we ate. We recall these sacred moments as the memories are a source of comfort, laughter, and sometimes painful.
Moses reminds all of the Children of Israel that they must enter the land and take it over from its current residents. This was based on the text (Gen. 15:16) when we read of the “sins of the Amorites” (the original Canaanite peoples) that caused the land to be spoiled and we have to fulfill God’s command to cleanse the land. Further, in Leviticus (26:33), the people are warned that their evil behavior can destroy the land and cause their own expulsion. It is clear that to live in the Land of Israel, we are required to follow the promise of Abraham in living with the ideals of tzedek and mishpat – justice and righteousness.
Our portion makes it clear that as they prepare to enter, they must set up a society to ensure these two values. In doing so, they are to set up cities of refuge (for people who have accidently killed others) and cities for the Levites (those who assisted in the sacrificial cult and did not get appointed any land). The Torah teaches us to take care of the natural lands surrounding these cities, creating a balance of living. And in the midst of all of this, Moses reminds us again the laws of inheritance that is equal among all of us, women and men.
Earlier, Moses explained the process of leadership succession to help prepare the people for life after Moses. In addition to Joshua’s leadership, we learn of Aaron’s successor to the High Priest. We now join with Moses as we look back on this journey and begin planning for a bright and meaningful future. The journey is coming to an end and the plans are finished. Everything is in place – it’s time to go in.
We are only 8 weeks away from the New Year, 5782. What are your plans? How will you figure out your own journey? Where are you heading? Chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek – Be Strong; Stay Strong; and Together, we will continue to strengthen each other.