-- In Honor of the Shloshim (thirty-day period of mourning) of
my dear father, Gershon Jacobson --
And the living shall take to heart
The journey of life has
many twists and turns. Our travels will take us on many strange roads, lead
us through uncharted terrain and bring us to many unknown places. We will
each encounter a number of unexpected surprises.
Yet we don’t come unprepared.
We were blessed with a roadmap to help us navigate our way through the labyrinth.
The Torah is this roadmap.
As a cosmic blueprint of existence, it illuminates for us the dark pathways
of our life passage and helps us find direction in an otherwise confused maze.
Bamidbar, the fourth book
of the Torah, which we now are in midst of reading, is particularly focused
on the journey of life. The Book of Bamidbar, literally desert or wilderness,
outlines the journey of the Jewish people through the Sinai wilderness. Each
chapter in this book conveys another vital message to us, in an accumulating
sequence, about how we must travel our journey.
Last week we reviewed the first five portions of the book, Bamidbar, Nasso,
Behaalotcho, Shelach and Korach. (Please
e-mail us if you would like
to receive last week’s article). Briefly, the chapters
tell us that life’s journey is traveling through a
“terrifying” desert, with the objective to transform
it. We have the power to be lifted to great places and to
illuminate others, and inspire them to become emissaries
in refining the world.
Yet, challenges abound,
as this week’s chapter Korach reminds us. Lacking bittul (selflessness) rebellious
voices turn us arrogant, and we can forget our mission, or even defy it for
many “good” reasons.
This week we will continue
with the latter five portions.
“Chukah” refers to the body of supra-rational laws that we accept as axioms
(in contrast to “meshpotim,” the rational laws, and “eidut,” the commemorative
ones). “Chukah” therefore, is also rooted in the word “chakikah,” engraving.
The axioms of life are not superimposed, but engraved in the very core of
Chukat teaches us that
there is only way to overcome the challenges of life’s voyage – and G-d knows
that there are many, much more than we would prefer. That way is to accept,
with unwavering determination the mission we are on; accept it as a given
reality – as real and more real than the challenges themselves. Only such
an internally engraved “chukah”-axiom can counterbalance the demoralizing
fears and inhibitions, the gnawing doubts and misgivings, the voices of apathy
and cynicism, imposed upon us in the weary desert journey.
And when we do, even death
itself – the ultimate blow to mans’ conceited self-importance – can be conquered.
Chukat reveals for us the secret of the Red Heifer to “purify” from death’s
stranglehold: The purification came about through combining ash and water.
The Chassidic mystics explain, that the power of life – and of all energy
– comes from the firm commitment to the ebb and flow of life’s two poles,
tension and resolution (fire and water).
To travel through this
challenging world we need to learn how to swim the rhythms of life. To know
when to thrust forward and when to pull back, when to go against the tide
and when to allow it to carry you. A good swimmer knows when to not attempt
to fight the powerful waves, and then when to surge ahead.
But all this technique
is predicated upon the unshakeable “chukah” commitment to the mission itself.
Then comes a new challenge. Envy and the thirst for power. Balak attempts
to hire the prophet Balaam to curse the Jewish people and prevent them from
concluding their journey in the wilderness. Ultimately, Balaam ends up blessing
the people instead.
Some of the greatest difficulties
in life’s journey are the forces that surround us and demand our conformity.
As you march forward with firm resolve, many lurking “Balak’s” will attempt
to stop your advance. If you remain strong and resolute in your Divine mission,
you have the power of the Divine that protects from all “curses,” and indeed
transforms them into the greatest blessings.
But then, Balaam makes
a “curtain call” and tells Balak to send the Moabite women to seduce the Jews.
“You cannot destroy them. But they can destroy themselves,” is Balaam’s essential
The only response to self-destruction
from within is --
Pinchas: Ultimate self sacrifice (mesirat nefesh). With zealousness
and absolute humility, Pinchas defended the honor of G-d and stood up against
Zealotry is not condoned
in the Torah, for all its obvious potentials for abuse. The Torah’s method
is to serve with gentleness not with aggressive zealousness. Torah is meant
to bring peace to the world, not violence even in the name of G-d.
Yet, there are times that
require a Pinchas to stand up to blatant abuse and preserve spiritual integrity.
The condition for this type of zealousness however is selflessness, to ensure
that the zeal has not tinge of self-interest. Thus, Pinchas was blessed with
the covenant of peace; his zeal brought peace, not aggression.
The tribes are sometimes called shevatim, “branches.” At other times
they are described as matot, “rods,” expressing their nature as offshoots
from a common stem. While shevet and mateh are both synonyms
for “branch,” the shevet is a pliant, flexible bough, while mateh
connotes a stiff stick or rod.
In this chapter the titles
“matot” is used to underscore the need for firmness and determination in carrying
out the mission of our journey.
Yet there is also a need
to balance firmness with flexibility, lest we get caught in the trap of stubborn
obstinacy that does not allow us to grow and move forward. Coupled with firmness
we need to have the ability to yield. A strong tree has both firm roots and
Matot therefore has to
be complemented by --
Movements. As the last portion of this book “Massei” (journeys) sums up all
the forty-two journeys in the desert.
The bottom line is that
whether you’re traveling through a desert or a garden the key is that you
are traveling. You’re not stuck or paralyzed. Not frozen or
locked – but on the move.
Movement, mobility is
the sign of life. Not just physical movement but spiritual movement. There
are people who move about all the time – and have racked up millions of “frequent-flyer”
miles – but intellectually, emotionally, psychologically they may not have
budged from their locked psyche.
Then there are those –
some of whom I have witnessed – that can sit for hours in one place, but their
minds, hearts and souls are traveling “billions of miles.”
Watch a true chassid pray
under a Tallit (prayer garb). For hours on end he may remain in one physical
place, while he travels through universes.
So there you have it,
a book of journeys that tells us about our journey through our psychological
A ten-point plan that
can help anyone of us make it through the toughest wastelands and the driest
And not just survive, but flourish.
Journey Part I