Beha’alotecha: Guided on our journey

Beha’alotecha: Guided on our journey

Temple Beth El of Northern Valley, Closter, Reform

My family is moving this month. We aren’t going very far. Google Maps tells me that the new home is only seven tenths of a mile away from the old home. It’s a couple of right hand turns and a short left, not even 2 minutes by car. I happen to like logistics and sequence puzzles, so getting all of our belongings from one house to the other has been a good theoretical challenge. But I will confess that the actual process of organizing, sorting, boxing, taping, packing, transporting, placing, and unpacking everything we own has been a monumental undertaking to plan.

Given my current preoccupation with moving, there’s a section of Beha’alotecha that really resonates with me this year. The Israelites are in the wilderness, in the second month of the second year since leaving Egypt. They’ve already received the Torah and built the Tabernacle. And now the time comes for them to set out on their journey to the Promised Land. There are a lot of them – over 600,000 men of fighting age, to say nothing of the women and children and other men in the camp. In precise detail, the Torah tells us their marching order, tribe by tribe, as they set out on their way (Numbers 10:11-28). We’d been given a preview of this a few chapters earlier (Numbers 2:1-34), when each tribe received its location in the camp and its designated role in the procession. But now they are actually on their way, hundreds of thousands of Israelites, or more, moving as one. (For the record, by way of comparison, I’m only moving 4 members of my family, including me.)

How did they know where they were going? What guided them on their way? Better than Waze or Siri, the Israelites have an awesome navigation system, in the truest sense of the word “awe-some.” The Torah tells us that there was a cloud over the Tabernacle. When it lifted and moved, the Israelites would break camp and follow the cloud. When it settled, the Israelites would stop and make camp (Numbers 9:17). The Midrash even hints that, as they journeyed, a ray of light would come forth from the cloud from time to time to point them in the correct direction (Tanhuma, Bemidbar, section 12). This was divine Providence at its best. God was directing their every step, giving them guidance and direction.

The metaphor of journey has particular meaning during an election year such as this one. Pollsters love to ask, “Do you think the nation is headed in the right direction?” Candidates tout their ability to set the country on the right path. As we make our way from the primary season to the general election, I suspect we’ll hear this metaphor more often in the months ahead. But, unlike my family, we don’t necessarily know where our final destination will be. We don’t know where we will find ourselves after Election Day. And, unlike the Israelites, I’m not counting on rays of divine light to point out our path. I don’t expect God to pick winners and losers in our electoral journey.

I do hope, however, that we are guided through this election season by Jewish values and American ideals. Let us seek candidates who are humble like Moses, wise like Deborah, upright like Abraham, and kind like Rebecca. When we disagree with one another, may we do so respectfully and tolerantly. Let our discourse be civil, shying away from the evil ways words can be used. May we strive for a society built on justice and righteousness, compassion and generosity, grace and lovingkindness. Let us reject hatred, divisiveness, and fear. Let us pursue peace.

My family’s journey to our new home is simple geography. A map and a sense of direction, combined with solid logistical planning, will get us there. The Israelites had a more difficult journey in traversing the wilderness, but they were guided by God’s sheltering Presence, helping them organize and navigate the challenges that lay ahead. Our country’s journey through this election season may test our mettle as a nation. May we always be guided on our way by our values and our ideals.

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