Thursday, July 4, 2013

My Journeys, Endings, Beginnings: Mattot-Massei

This Shabbat marks my first not actively serving a synagogue; my service at Beth Meier having come to an end and my service at North Shore Jewish Center not set to begin until August. The parshah, Mattot-Massei, which is the last of the Book of Numbers, finds a way to address me in the place in which I find myself. There are two ways the portion speaks to me - one through its content and one through its position at the end of a book of the Torah and how we treat it as such. Mattot-Massei includes a review of all the places that the Jews camped during the Exodus. This list is of a physical as well as a spiritual journey. As important as where they were are how the experiences of the Exodus forged the Jews into a nation united by Torah (or at least united by the struggle to be united by Torah). The second connection for me has to do with how we treat the end of a book of Torah. In synagogue we chant, "chazak, chazak, v'nitchazek" - "be strong, be strong, and may we be strengthened." We do this to acknowledge all that we (hope we) have gained from our time spent reading and learning the book now closing. But more than that, these words suggest the refrain spoken numerous times in the Bible during the transition period between the death of Moses and the start of Joshua's term leading the Jews. That is also the time of the Jews' entry into Israel and the beginning of the process of conquest. A time of great challenge and opportunity and loss and possibility. The first point encourages me to reflect on the places I have been and what I have learned from each of them. What I have learned about myself, the communities I have served, the type of rabbi and father and husband and Jew I hope to be. My own journey of Illinois, California, New Jersey, California and New York has shown me the importance of being patient, of not giving up, of wanting to give and grow with a congregation, of wanting to see my sons and wife grow as people and to be encouraging of that growth. And the second point from this parshah inspires me to have courage and be strengthened by my commitments to God and Israel and Judaism. To let those things inspire me as I know they have in the past as I go through this time of great change. I encourage all of you to reflect on these themes from the parshah which I believe to be universal themes for all of us to consider at all times of our lives. Shabbat Shalom, I wish you strength on your journey! Rabbi Aaron Benson

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