:וַיִּכְתֹּב משֶׁה אֶת מוֹצָאֵיהֶם לְמַסְעֵיהֶם עַל פִּי יי וְאֵלֶּה מַסְעֵיהֶם לְמוֹצָאֵיהֶם במדבר לג:ב
“Moses recorded the starting points for their journeys as directed by G‽D. These were their journeys by their starting points.” Numbers 33:2
I’ve been thinking a lot about the myriad of conflicts happening in the world right now. There are so many of them that it’s overwhelming to even attempt to list them all here. I have also been thinking a lot about R. Buckminster Fuller, the neo-futuristic architect whose ideas about humanity have been almost as influential to me as the Torah itself.
Buckminster Fuller once wrote that “The Earth is like a spaceship that didn’t come with an operating manual.” Here we are – humankind – flying through the universe on our spinning blue spherical spaceship. We are without a formal destination, we’re without a road map, and we still haven’t met any fellow travelers from whom we can ask directions.
In this week’s Torah portion, Masei, we read a rather long and dry list of all the places that the Israelites have traveled to and made camp on their way to the Promised Land. In chapter 33, verse 2 of Numbers, we read that Moses was told by G‽D to make this list of all the places through which the Israelites have journeyed. Moses then proceeds to record the journeys according to each place. When you plot this list onto a map, it’s clear that they were not taking the most direct route to Canaan. And that’s the point.
Our Sages, never ones to miss nuance, noticed that the words for “starting points” and “journeyed” in the first half of the verse are found in the reverse order in the second half. According to Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, the first half of the verse is written from the perspective of G‽D and the second half is written from the experiences of the people themselves. Why is this important?
This subtle reversal shows us that the key piece for us, the people, is about the journey – not just the final destination. When we are working toward fulfilling our long-term plans, we often try to plot out our next move. Sometimes we find a bump along the way, causing us to regroup and rethink our short term goals. It’s these short-term goals, the stops or benchmarks along the way, that help build up toward our long term goals.
Our One Human Family has been trying for millennia to find the “road map to peace.” It’s a tall order to fill and, frankly, not very likely in our lifetimes. Still, while we keep the ultimate goal in mind, we should focus most on what we can do together in the here and now. It starts with small things: like Jews and Muslims breaking their fasts together, as thousands did around the world when the Fast of Tammuz coincided with Ramadan. These are the Holy Places we pause for along the way.
Like Buckminster Fuller, I believe that “We are not going to be able to operate our Spaceship Earth successfully nor for much longer unless we see it as a whole spaceship and our fate as common. It has to be everybody or nobody.” But until we start meeting in the Holy Places, pausing for the Holy Moments, between now and then, we’ll never make it to the Promised Land. I’m ready for the journey. Join me and let’s sojourn together. Shabbat Shalom.