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The Journey of Journeys


Torah Portion: Parashat Mattot-Masei

Shabbat: July 15, 2023 | Tammuz 26, 5783

Prophets: Isaiah 66:1-24


Priestly Blessing

“The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.” Numbers 6:24-26


The Journey of Journeys | Further thoughts on Parashat Mattot-Masei

From our Torah portion for this week we read: "These are the journeys of the people of Israel (מַסְעֵי בְנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵל) who went out of the land of Egypt..." (Num. 33:1). The sages ask why the word "journeys" (plural) was used here, since only the first journey from Rameses to Sukkot literally marked "yetziat mitzrayim," the going out of Egypt and all the other journeys were outside of Egypt, in desert regions. They answer that the journey out of Egypt goes beyond the physical land into the spiritual - an exodus from captivity to the world into the realm of the spirit. As has been said, it took the LORD 40 days to get Israel out of Egypt, but it took 40 years to get Egypt out of Israel... The "journey out of Egypt" is therefore a journey of smaller journeys that leads to the full consciousness of deliverance.

Along the way we are repeatedly tested. The "desert experience" reveals what is hidden in our hearts... The murmuring and rebellion of the Israelites in the desert is our own, and our challenge is to find healing from our fears. Anger, doubt, boredom, cravings, and outright rebellion are symptoms of a deeper problem, and to change we must first confess our inner poverty, neediness, and emptiness (James 5:16). When we stop making excuses we can learn to trust in God's provision for our lives; we will taste of the heavenly manna and be satisfied; we will be delivered from our fears by be filled with God's love. The impulses that sought to lead us away from God will no longer be able to pretend to be the truth, since God's peace and love will direct the heart. We will begin to take hold of the promise...

Be encouraged my fellow sojourners walking by faith through the desert of this present world. The Torah uses a repetitious expression, "Sanctify yourselves and you shall be holy" (הִתְקַדִּשְׁתֶּם וִהְיִיתֶם קְדשִׁים) (Lev. 11:44) because when we make a sincere effort -- no matter how feeble at times -- to draw near to the LORD, He will draw near to us (Zech. 1:3; James 4:8; Psalm 145:18). Indeed the walk of faith is one of ascent and descent and ascent again: It's often "two steps forward, one step back..." It is a long road, a process, as we learn to obey and seek to grow closer to God. Authentic repentance doesn't imply that we will never sin or make any mistakes, of course, but rather means that the oscillating pattern of "up, then down, then up" is the basic way we walk. Our direction has changed for good; we have turned to God for life and hope. We now understand our sins in light of a greater love that bears them for us even as we draw ever closer to the One who calls us home...

John J. Parsons

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