I heard this idea from one of my rabbis, Rabbi Yitzi Blachman, at our graduation this week. It’s simple, but, I believe, profound.
This week’s portion lists forty-two journeys that the Children of Israel undertook during their time in the desert. Rabbi Blachman asked why did the Torah need to write down the details of every journey? If its purpose, as a book, is to provide wisdom, not historical details, why do we need to know every journey that was undertaken?
He answered that each journey was a part of the overall journey – from Mt Sinai to Israel. It was a roundabout route, and it took them forty years, but they made it in the end. His point was that whilst the journey took forty years, the actual arrival at the destination was immediate. So much of our lives is the journey, he pointed out, not the destination. So much more of our time is spent achieving, than the achievements themselves. More than life is about the destination, it is about the journey itself.
In Jewish thinking, the destination is what might be called spiritual enlightenment, connection to God, or achieving Godliness ourselves. But this is a moving target. There are always higher levels. There is no point at which one sits back and says, ‘I am enlightened’. In fact, believing oneself to be enlightened, is, for me, quite a good sign that a person is not. And hence, life is really only a journey and nothing else. Destinations are all false peaks because there is no peak. That might sound discouraging but I feel it is the opposite. Imagine a train journey in a comfortable train through a magical land of incredible sights and wonders to behold. Would you want to reach your destination? This is life. An amazing journey – limitless contribution for us to make, limitless growth, limitless development, limitless giving and limitless love. Limitless hope, limitless possibility. Limitless wisdom to discover. And even though it does appear to come to an end for all of us, in my mind, that end is merely another stop along the way, a segue into an even greater and more glorious journey. The same train ride, only on steroids. The rabbis say that for the enlightened, there is no rest – not in this world, nor in the next. Because rest is a break in the journey of life. And who would want a break from such an incredible experience?
The only thing to do is to hang on and enjoy the ride. Every moment of life is here for us to savour and enjoy, to grow and develop. And, funnily enough, one of the only things that gets in the way of that happening is when we set up arbitrary destinations for ourselves – I need to achieve this; I need to accomplish that; I need some specific outcome to my actions. It’s like sitting on that wonderful train journey and be squinting our eyes to try to see what is beyond the horizon. All of the beauty that is right in front of us goes out of focus. So too with life – whilst we do orient towards specific destinations, obsessing about them takes us out of the pleasures of the moment. Focusing on the woods, we lose sight of the trees. And not only do we not reach the destination, we don’t even enjoy the ride.
Parsha in a Nutshell
Mattos includes the laws of making and annulling vows and the request of the tribes of Reuben and Gad for their portion of land to be east of the Jordan River. Maasei includes the complete list of journeys in the desert and God’s instructions to divide the land by a national lottery system. God establishes the borders of the land of Israel. New leadership is appointed. The laws are set forth regarding manslaughter and murder.