This week, we encounter the double portion Matot-Mas’ei which brings us to the end of the Book of Numbers. It is a portion filled with drama and moral challenges. What does it mean to make a vow? Why did Moses instruct his soldiers to kill all the Midianites, with the exception of young girls who had not yet known a man? (Numbers 31). There is the preparation to enter Canaan; another counting and a plan to divide up the land, including the creation of “cities of refuge” (35:9-15) as well as a discusion on the nature of homicide. We sense, as the book ends, that we are witnessing yet another transition. The Israelites who exited Egypt are gone. The generation that will enter Cannan is now emerging, a leader, Joshua, has been named.
We can interpret these events in many ways just as our tradition. An idea for our generation emerged in looking at a modern commentary on these readings. That commentary looked at God as a “spiritual guide” and these chapters as a sort of symbolic maturation of the Israelites. The journey from slavery to on the cusp of Canaan was seen as a metaphor for our own personal journey. In essence, the Wilderness experience is symbolic of our own life. In her “The Biblical Path to Psychological Maturity”. Vivian B. Skolnick writes of these chapters: “The wilderness therapeutic experience has many parallels with what transpires in a therapeutic relationship. The areas that are brought up by the patient often reflect the redoing of the same issues over and over again, by looking at the same issue with new eyes. The territory covered may appear the same, but the patient is at a different psychological place that allows looking back wth newer insights…With the Torah blueprint for maturity as a guidebook, the metpahor is clear. Look how far you have traveled from dependency to autonomy…” (206)
In this chapter of our own journey, we can look back with new eyes and gain new insights. Our journey to “maturity”, like that of the Israelites, has been filled with starts and stops, never linear. And yet, here we are at a stage in life when, we pray, we have the luxury and the gift of time to see how far we have come; from dependency to a sense of personal freedom. Has Torah, even its most liberal sense, been our guide? How do we begin to measure our days at this stage of life. We have lived so much and, like the Israelites, we see those who will come after us, and yet, we still have the sight to see what still may be possible as we enter this next stage. We have no idea what this next stage will be like, what will confront and what will challenge us. But, let us hope that Torah can serve us as a guide as this journey continues.
Rabbi Richard F. Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.