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Parashat Matot-Masei - 5777

Dear friends,

This Shabbat we read the last two portions of the book of Bamdibar (Numbers) - Matot and Mass'ei.

Moses and the Children of Israel are on the threshold of the Promised Land, bringing to a close the forty years of wandering in the wilderness. In Mass'ei Moses recalls the various stations along the way, listing 42 places where they had set up camp on their forty-year journey. Commentaries discuss the importance of listing all 42 stations and their meaning to the evolvement of the twelve tribes into one nation, the people of Israel.

Another interesting point is the way the Torah introduces this long journey:

"These were the marches of the Israelites who left Egypt troop by troop, in the charge of Moses and Aaron. Moses recorded the starting points (motzaeheim) of their marches (Mass'eihem) as directed by the L-rd, and these are their marches (Mass'eihem) by their starting points (Motzaeheim)." (Numbers 33:1,2)

Two important words here are "motzaeheim" - their starting points - and "Mass'eihem" - their marches, or journeys. The Hebrew word 'Motza' means your origin, your background, where you came from, while 'Massa' is your travel, your journey. The way the verse places these words would seem as if they are going forwards and backwards. They left on the journey, and the journey is towards their origin.

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin makes an important observation in comparing the Israelites' journey out of Egypt to the history of our people in their long two-thousand-year wandering in the Diaspora. The Israelites' travels, while lasting many years in the wilderness, no matter how far they had gone or how long it took, they had one destination in mind - their original Promised Land. In our long exile from Israel and in the Jewish dispersion throughout the world, Jews never forgot their place of origin, their Promised Land, their Torah and their traditions. We have been most fortunate to live in a time when we have witnessed the ingathering of exiles from the four corners of the world who have returned to the Promised Land and built the modern State of Israel.

We have also been fortunate to witness the return of many descendants of Jews who were forced to live as Crypto Jews in many parts of the world, who have always had their hearts and souls set on their origin, have waited for the opportunity to return, and have now become part of our community. We have also been fortunate to witness the return of Jews from the former Soviet Union.

Seventy years of oppression and prohibitions of allowing our people to live as Jews could not extinguish the spark of Judaism that remained in their hearts and souls. Today they have returned and are studying Judaism and enrolling their children in Jewish schools. We can all say, "Am Yisrael chai" - the Jewish people lives - and we have all been strengthened and inspired by their return.

Shabbat Shalom,