Happiness is Looking at Old Photos

Everyone loves looking at old photos because it brings back vivid memories of times we may not otherwise have remembered. As we study the portraits, we remember details of our celebrations, milestones, our vacations, and we actually feel the emotions we felt when the pictures were being taken.

In Parshat Masey, the second of the Parshiyot we read this week as we conclude the book of Bamidbar, the Torah paints a verbal picture for us of all of the journeys through the desert.

אֵ֜לֶּה מַסְעֵ֣י בְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל אֲשֶׁ֥ר יָצְא֛וּ מֵאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרַ֖יִם לְצִבְאֹתָ֑ם בְּיַד־מֹשֶׁ֖ה וְאַהֲרֹֽן׃

These were the journeys of the Israelites who started out from the land of Egypt, troop by troop, in the charge of Moses and Aaron.

As the Israelites arrived near the borders of Israel, they were reminded of the incredible challenges they faced, the victories they won, and achievements they fulfilled. Rashi Rabbi Shlomo ben Yitzchak in France (1040-11:05) explains that there were only 20 journeys throughout 38 years of the 40 years in the desert. This reminder enabled the Israelites to pause and consider with gratitude all that they endured and survived with G-d’s help throughout these years. In general, it is a recommended practice that we pause and reflect on how we got to where we got to, especially at momentous times in our lives.

The Ohr Hachaim – Rav Shlomo Ben Atar – Morocco (1696- 1743) poses a compelling question on the verse above. Namely, why does the Torah list the journeys of the Israelites and not the encampments? Why not call the Parsha: “these are the destinations,” as opposed to “these are the journeys?”

Perhaps this is the source of the famous quote from T.S. Eliot: “It is the journey not the destination that matters.” It matters because it is when we try, toil, and expend efforts that we journey forward. Only after we journey do we arrive at the planned or unplanned destination.

As we revel in the long summer days and weekends, let’s consider and reflect on all the positive experiences we faced through the years. We can enjoy the memories and plan some new journeys for the year ahead as well.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Epstein
Community Scholar in Residence