Dvar Torah – Parasha Massei

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Aaron BrussoApparently nothing in the universe is truly still. On the molecular level things are always moving. Even our bodies are in constant motion though we don’t always notice. And then there are times when we feel movement so deeply in your bones that we cannot remember what it was like to feel still. For many of us that is what it feels like during the school year when life is so busy.

For the Israelites they are feeling constant movement in Parahsat Masei:

They journeyed from Elim and camped by the Red Sea. They journeyed from the Red Sea and camped in the desert of Sin. They journeyed from the desert of Sin and camped in Dophkah. They journeyed from Dophkah and camped in Alush….

Reading the list with no context, Rashi is concerned that one might come to the conclusion that God is literally dragging Israel from place to place with no rest in between. The rhythm of the list gives off the impression that the needs of the Israelites are not being taken into account in this process. Rashi assures us that this is not the case and that there was plenty of time between stops for life to be lived.

But why the list in the first place? And why written this way? The trope, the cantillation notes, highlight the predictability of instability- etnachta, sof pasuk, etnachta, sof pasuk– the only thing you know for sure is that a different place is coming next.

I think the answer is that you don’t know the importance of home until you are homeless. We understand after reading this list that if you are not from somewhere you are from nowhere and anywhere. Even if as Rashi suggests, they spent significant time in these places- it is not the same as having a home.

And that is what this parasha is beginning to define – a home. It is not a place where we have spent time, not even the place where our bodies reside, because as we know, they too on a micro level are in flux.

Home is where our souls connect. A place where our souls connect to something much larger than bedroom furniture or office buildings or coffee shops. A place where our deepest held values and ideas find company and community.

Home is a place that gives rest to your soul even as your body is in motion.

The second half of Masei is devoted to setting up just such a home for the Israelites based on social and civil justice. Cities of refuge and inheritance rights. All the ideals of a place that speaks to the soul. Not a place to stop when it is dark, but a place that actively works to push back the darkness. Not a place to live but a place that supports our efforts to become worthy of having been given the opportunity to live.

Standing on the threshold of entering the land, the Israelites were conscious of the values that they would bring to it so that it would not be moving into a new house but coming home.

The fact that our children’s wanderings stop in the summer and they are able to find a home for their souls at Camp Ramah is a true blessing.