Relying on Torah to guide us in life’s journey

BY RABBI LANE STEINGER

A very clever Israeli television commercial depicts harried, haggard ancient Israelites wandering in the desert. Suddenly a handheld Global Positioning System (GPS) miraculously appears in the sand. Moses picks it up and, to the delight of his followers uses the GPS to guide the people onward.

This week we conclude the reading of Bemidbar (“In the wilderness”), the Book of Numbers. We do so with a double Torah Portion. We read both Matot and Mas’ei. Mas’ei, the final sedra of Numbers, begins, “Eileh mas’ei venei Yisrael — These are the journeys of the Israelites who went out from the land of Egypt, troop by troop, through the agency of Moses and Aaron. Moses recorded the starting points of their journeys as directed by the Eternal, and these are their journeys by their starting points…”

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Scripture suggests and Rashi, our greatest biblical commentator, reminds us that after they departed Egypt, the Israelites were not constantly on the move. According to Rashi, there were 42 stops or sojourns along the way. Thus the Israelites traveled not by wandering aimlessly — and not without challenges — but from one point to another, by stages.

As it was for our spiritual forebears, so it can be for each and all of us. A human life often is likened to a journey. In the poetic words of Rabbi Alvin Fine (of blessed memory), “…life is a going, a growing/from stage to stage.” Every one of us is on her or his unique path. Do we drift, ramble and roam, or meander? Or do we proceed purposefully, step by step, stage by stage, with the blessings of a sense of direction and good companions, and with the benefits of divine and human guidance?

A GPS (or a map or a Triptik) can assist us in finding a specific physical location or route us to an actual address. But as the Torah teaches us this week, for our life’s journey we need more powerful –and even more helpful — spiritual resources and tools, including hope, faith and fortitude.

May we be blessed on our ways. Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Lane Steinger serves Shir Hadash Reconstructionist Community and is a member of the St. Louis Rabbinical Association.