The first “Back to School” catalogs began arriving in people’s mailboxes this year around the 12th of June, two weeks before school was even let out for the summer. Friends on social media were not amused (despite having laughed last year when the Christmas catalogs arrived before Halloween), but, rather, they were actively annoyed and even angry at this affront to summer. Summer is a season apart. Through long days, vacations, weekends on the beach, barbecues, and time with family, American culture leads us to see summer as a time of renewal and rebirth. It is a season that refreshes us and prepares us for the year ahead – the start of school, the ramping up of business at work, the rush and pressure of fall and winter activities. It is one of the only times during the year that people really seem to relish living in the moment. Pictures abound of toes in the sand, smiling and sweaty families, mountains, oceans, and sunsets. We rejoice in summer and we try not to think about the fall ahead.
This week’s Torah portion, Matot / Masei, is the final one in the book of Numbers, a book that chronicles almost 38 years of the wanderings of the Children of Israel on their path to Eretz Yisrael. Masei means journeys, and this section marks down the starting points of their various marchings. From this, it seems that Torah wants us to focus not only on the destination, but on the process.
At funerals, I like to read the Alvin Fine poem that begins, “Birth is a beginning and death a destination, but life is a journey.” As we look back on a life, we remark on each achievement, each moment in that life, but we too often discount the process by which we arrive at the moment, the path to becoming the person we develop into. How frequently we become so focused on our goals or obsessed by our errors that we forget to notice what we are learning in the moment. But the entire Torah is about the journey, not the destination. We never even REACH the Promised Land in the Torah. Author Henry Miller said, “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” I pray that this Shabbat, and indeed this summer, we will take a moment to reflect on the journey and, as the Torah does this week, relish every stop along the way.
Cantor Sally Neff