Parashat Mattot-Mase’ei

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.

Rashbam simply states: the Torah reviews all the journeys in order to list all the locations were they camped.

His grandfather, Rashi, somewhat more interestingly identifies the accounting for each stage of the journey as a sign of God’s benevolence. Rashi even knocks down the stages to 20 from 42 by discounting those in the first year before the decree of wandering and those after Aaron’ death. All to illustrate that despite decreeing their death in the wilderness, God did not wish to make their experience too difficult, allowing them numerous rest stops along the way.

Martin Buber suggests that journeys lead to secret places of which the traveler is unaware.

Perhaps the purpose of the wilderness trek was not only about a generation dying out: It was about the next generation being inspired and steeped in the heritage of their ancestors. Their inheritance was not only the land that they were assigned in the Promised Land, it was the family stories and legends, the narrative of a People, Israel.

I was amazed and delighted to be sent a photo by my 18 year old nephew on a trip to Amsterdam with two mates from our Shul to celebrate the conclusion of their school final exams. They were obviously proud to show their uncle and rabbi that they had visited the Jewish Museum and the Spanish and Portugeuse Synagogue. I assume that they visited a few other places in Amsterdam but their pride in being Jewish shone through, a journey to a secret place of their soul. This journey was part of them owning the family stories and legends, the narrative of a People, Israel.

Not knowing where it would lead, my father, Rabbi Dr Andrew Goldstein delivered a Yom Kippur sermon 40 years ago. It led to hundreds of our synagogue congregants and hundreds from other communities inspired by Dad and to journey to the Czech and Slovak Republics to connect with the towns and cities their Torah Scrolls had come from. If you or your community have a Czech or Slovak scroll or just would like to be part of the special journeys to explore and commemorate a past whilst connecting to a new, growing Progressive community, please contact me.

And a new adventure has begun for our community thanks to EUPJ and our desire to support Progressive Communities in Ukraine. Having ‘lost’ our connection to Simferepol when Russia annexed Crimea, we used remaining funds to sponsor a conference for Ukranian Progressive Jewish educators with a side agenda of us finding a suitable new community to connect with.

We have found this in Lviv (Lvov, Lwow, Lemberg). In the city that is emblematic of a whole region whose Jewish population were numerous and influential, and were then wiped out, we are twinned with the Teiva Progressive Congregation, a phoenix.

Each visit I have made to Lviv has revealed secret destinations. They reveal the aching need of many whose ancestry is inextricably entwined with the city’s history combined with the desire of others to support and experience a phoenix rising.

I look forward to others from WUPJ joining me on our 2019 visit to Lviv, Lvov, Lwow, Lemberg or however you know it. Or you may be interested in making Connections between your congregation and another. Together we become part of our family stories and the narrative of our People. Together we wander through the wilderness of life and divine a purpose.

All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.


About the author:

Rabbi Aaron Goldstein is the Senior Rabbi of Northwood and Pinner Liberal Synagogue (NPLS).