Matot-Ma’aseh: That Long and Winding Road

We come this week to the end of the book of Numbers. A rather interesting portion which looks at vows, revenge, and certain cities that people can flee to who have killed someone, by accident. These cities of refuge are very powerful images. We also come to a strange chapter in this portion, a chapter that rarely gets looked at because it is just a detailed description of the places that the Israelites camped at during the trek from Egyptian bondage to the cusp of Canaan. Why include this chapter?
Rabbi Shai Held in his commentary on this passage gives us an incling as to the symbolism of the chapter. It really is a look, in a very symbolic way, of our own life’s journey. It is never linear. It is a journey filled with stops and starts, moving forward and back, and at times, standing still. We discussed this as a recent Torah study I teach at a local JCC and it sparked some interesting conversation. We are at an age when we can look back and see the journey of life in a way quite similar to this chapter. We have “camped” at various locations, had to deal with doubt and, at times, had to fight our way to have the courage to move forward. Yet, move forward we did.
So much a part of our non linear journey is the reality of the randomness of that journey. Like the Israelites, we sometimes did not expect that we would have to deal with what life handed us. At times, we were norushed by “manna” of friends and relationships and good fortune. And, there were times when we struggled, when events and people may have conspired against us. Yet, we moved forward, sometimes not at the pace we wished for, but move we did.
Thus, Numbers 33 becomes another instance when Torah becomes more than the literal words. Rather, it is that symbolic picture of our own existence, our own journey to our promised land.
“Chazak, Chazak, V’ Nitchazek”: be strong, be strengthened in your journey.
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min


  1. I never thought of it this way. I just assumed that this chapter is sort of like the Red Heifer — no longer relevant.

    I am going to the funeral of a good friend tomorrow and unfortunately I am beginning to lose friends every so often at this point in my life. I have been doing just as you described, thinking back over my life, my achievements and disappointments. I think this is a natural thing to do at our stage of life. It’s comforting to know that there is a passage in the bible that speaks to this.

  2. Perhaps, old age is designed as a “place of refuge” – savings, pensions, social security, medicare, seniors communities, reductions in prices for seniors, etc. That said, this refuge frequently has the unintended consequence of isolating its inhabitants from full participation in the larger society much the way cities of refuge in ancient Israel did. Seniors are caught between two worlds: appreciation of the benefits and resentment of some of the consequences. Beware of others who want “to take care of me” even as I may both want them and need them to do so! Meanwhile, members of the sandwich generation are taxed financially, emotionally and physically trying to do “the right thing.” It’s a dilemma requiring a “SACRED” conversation between the generations. Then, when death delivers us to yet a new place, we might be able to pray with greater conviction: !ברוך דין האמת

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.