Monday, July 21, 2014


Numbers 33:1-36:13

By Rabbi Lewis Eron for Jewish Reconstructionist Communities

Personalizing the Epic Narrative


The Torah portion, Masey (Numbers 33:1 – 36:13), which concludes Sefer Bamidbar (the Book of Numbers), brings us to the end of our ancestors’ journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. Forty years have passed since the Exodus. A new generation, born in freedom, has replaced the last generation to experience slavery. This generation has proven itself in battle. It is proud, self-assured, and ready to engage in the struggle to win and hold a new land. It will not be held back by the fears that constrained its parents. Although in the future the comforts of settled life will tempt their descendants and challenge the coming generations to rediscover their unique Israelite heritage, this generation is a generation born to action.

The opening chapter of Parashat Masey (Numbers 33) is a tribute to the wilderness experience. In it Moses records the forty-two steps of Israel’s journey from Ramases in Egypt to Abel-shittim in the plains of Moab, across the Jordan River from Canaan for posterity. Moses recalls each march and each encampment with often no more information than they left here and went there.

There is no need to elaborate on what happened at each step in the journey. Moses’ list comes at the end of a well-known story. The events of our people’s travels from Egypt to Canaan were part of the living folk—memory of our Israelite ancestors and should be well known to us since we read the Torah every year. The mere mention of each place should evoke the memory of Israel’s experiences in the Wilderness.

Once, however, in this long list Moses does pause to recollect what happened along the way. In this pause Moses, for a brief moment, puts aside the mantle of prophetic leadership. He is no longer God’s faithful shepherd. Here, Moses exposes his humble humanity and gives us a glimpse at what it might feel like to be the last of a generation—the feelings of loss and of hope. By personalizing the journey, Moses transforms what might have been another list of God’s saving deeds into a moving recollection of his and his people’s real life experiences.

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