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