This Shabbat, we complete the book of Numbers – B’midbar in Hebrew, which means “In the wilderness.” The 40 years of Israelite wandering have come to an end, and Moses has come to the end of his life.
I’ve often joked that parashat Masei is the first-ever “How I spent my summer vacation” essay, and it does read like the itinerary of a family road trip. It lists all of the places where the Israelites camped since leaving Egypt, and makes it sound like they were constantly on the move, although a good amount of the time was spent in one place.
A rabbinic teaching offers this: “A parable! It may be compared to the case of a king whose son was ill and whom he took to a distant place to cure him. When they returned home the father began to enumerate all the stages, saying to him, “Here we slept, here we caught cold, here you had the headache, etc.” (Midrash Tanchuma 4:10:3.)
I’ve shared this comparison before, but reading it now, for the first time, I see a connection between the Torah reading, the king, and life, and that connection is healing. God, after the incident with the Golden Calf, learned that the Israelites needed time to heal from the wounds of 400 years of slavery and oppression in Egypt, physically, emotionally and spiritually. The kind taking his son to many places in search of healing is no different than how we might seek second and even third opinions following a diagnosis. It’s also not unusual for a family to travel great distances to find the best doctor, hospital or facility to treat their child or other loved one.
And we, who have lived long enough to reflect over the past 40 years and more, can look back and see what has been hurtful, what has been healing. What are we proud of, and what do we wish we hadn’t done? How can we use the travelogue of the past to map out routes for the future?
The Israelites needed to avenge the Midianites before they could enter the Land of Israel, and we have our own battles to fight as we get older. To jump ahead to parashat Vayelekh, Hazak ve-ematz–“Be strong and have courage.” (Deut. 31:7).
May the past support and sustain us, and may we look ahead to a future of promise.