A time for standing still


This week’s Torah portion is Matot-Masei, Numbers 30:2 – 36:13.

We are at the end of the Israelites’ journey in the wilderness, a period during which we often describe them as “wandering.” As we read the long recap of their travels, place name after place name, it becomes clear why the word “wandering” is used. It seems as if nothing happened in the lives of the people except moving from camp to camp.

Yet we know that our people’s story is full of much more than travels. They built a Tabernacle and created a holy community with sacred rituals. They agreed on an ethical blueprint for living their lives. They fought with each other over moral questions, and fought together against other peoples. They betrayed their commitment to their new covenant over and over, and then came back to it each time.

They also lived their lives as individuals, in details only fleetingly revealed by the text. They raised children, cultivated relationships, gained insights and suffered losses. We can see all this, looking in from the outside. But did the Israelites? Or, were they so consumed by their journey that it is all they saw?


In next week’s portion, the people will stand still for a moment, a long moment that stretches the length of the book of Deuteronomy. They need this so that Moses can prepare them for life in the Land of Israel. He can help them shift from being wanderers to a community that sets down roots, from the disconnectedness of their journeys to the grounding of living their lives where they are.

For all of us, the journey through life is full of defining moments and milestones such as lifecycle events, graduations, professional accomplishments and life changes, or smaller stopping points like the completion of an all-consuming project or the end of an academic year.

Summer is a good time for us to stop and enjoy, to take a well-needed vacation or just an evening walk — whatever helps us to notice the moments when nothing big in life is happening except life itself. In this way, we are not wandering from stopping point to stopping point. We are living our lives where we are.

Rabbi Jeffrey Saxe is a rabbi at Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church.

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  1. Rabbi Jeffrey Saxes continues to mesmerize me. He has such a beautiful and interesting way of communicating. I wish I lived in his community so that I could see his sermons in person. Thank You for sharing this Torah Portion. I will certainly share it with my family and friends


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