For the last number of years, the summer edition of our synagogue magazine has focused on the Jewish travel experiences of our members. As well as boasting as a member, Cathy Winston, the travel editor for the British Jewish Chronicle, congregants wrote about Crete and Corfu, Dubrovnik and Copenhagen and the Judah Hyam synagogue in New Delhi. Numbers 33, the opening chapter of the sidrah, Mase’ei reads like a travel itinerary, the stages of the Israelites wanderings in the wilderness.
I’m writing this drash in the week of the Wall: the week when the Israeli government decided to freeze its promise, negotiated through the good offices of the Jewish Agency over 18 months ago, to legalise freedom of religion at the Kotel by permitting egalitarian worship in a specially marked section. Though that section, the Wall’s southern expanse at Robinson’s Arch, has been used for egalitarian worship services for several years, the agreement would formally incorporate it into the Wall precinct and at the same time protect it from a rabbinical takeover.
“Let this land be given to your servants as a heritage; do not take us across the Jordan.”(Bamidbar 32,5b). This is what two and a half tribes ask of Moses as the people of Israel are getting ready to cross over the Jordan River and conquer the promised land. Why would they ask to stay on the eastern side of the Jordan valley? They have the explanation in the first phrases of the portion Matot: