Friday August 2, 2019 –
Menachem Av 1, 5779
Matos – Masei (Double portion)
The Nine Days
The first nine days of the month of Av, and also the morning of the tenth until noon, are days of acute mourning for the destruction of the first and second Holy Temples. This year Tisha B’Av actually falls out on Shabbos so it’s pushed off till the next day. That’s called a nidche.
As this is considered a time of mourning, there are many restrictions. I’m not listing all of them, just the ‘biggies’ which are: We don’t eat meat except for Shabbos, no haircuts, no nail cutting etc no buying new clothing unless it’s a great sale. This is because the Temple was set ablaze on the afternoon of the ninth of Av and burned through the tenth. More on Tisha B’Av next week.
This week’s Torah portion has a very important lesson. We learn that the Jews were in the desert for 40 years and during that time had 42 journeys. While that sounds like about one per year, it didn’t quite work like that.
Eleven of those journeys were during the first year out of Egypt, with a further 11 over the last year before entering Israel. That leaves a grand total of 19 trips over the intervening 38 years. Still quite a bit of traveling.
So how did the Jews know when it was time to move? G-d created a very interesting system.
While they traveled, the Clouds of Glory followed them, protecting them from the harsh desert weather. However, at any time, with almost no warning, the Clouds of Glory that accompanied them could rise into the sky, signifying that they were about to leave.
That means every single day of their sojourn they would have found themselves staring up into the heavens above, wondering what the next day would bring. Would they be packing up and leaving, or staying put? And herein lies the lesson.
The Jews never felt permanent. They never knew when they would be leaving to set up another tent city. It could not have been a very secure life. In fact, I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been, never knowing what the next day would bring.
And here’s the lesson of our desert journeys: There are no guarantees in life, and nothing is forever. No one ever guaranteed you permanent residence, and past performance is no indication of future returns. The only one constant is that wherever we travel in life, we are led by G‑d. He is directing our footsteps.
How many times do we see someone who exercised, ate well, didn’t smoke or drink get sick while the guy who ate everything that didn’t get up and walk away from the table, smoked like a chimney and drank himself into oblivion, lived a long life? I did all the right things and yet, wham, I got hit. So, what choice do we really have in life if G-d has really determined what will happen to us?
This is a loaded question but sometimes, as in this week’s Torah portion, we see a glimpse of the answer.
We are taught by the journeys of our ancestors that the choice left to me is how I utilize the time that I have been allotted, and what inspiration and memories I leave behind me when I'm gone.
There are no guarantees in life no matter how prepared we think we are. Jews are a G-d fearing people and know, more than any other peoples in the world how fragile life can be. Make the most of every moment, hour and day. G-d is reminding us to live, not just exist.