“Life is a journey, not a destination.” I heard this expression, liked it and searched to find its author. Online I saw it attributed to people as diverse as writer Ralph Waldo Emerson and Steven Tyler, lead singer for the rock band Aerosmith. So I guess no one really knows who said it. But after learning this week’s Parsha I think I know who inspired this idea. It is the lesson that Rabbi Tanchuma learns from the beginning of Parshat Masei. The Parsha opens with a list of all of the 42 stops that Bnei Yisrael made during their forty years of wandering in the desert. Why doesn’t the Torah just tell us the original starting point and the eventual destination? We don't even know what happened at each place that is enumerated, so why specify each one?
Rashi quotes Rabbi Tanchuma who explains by means of a parable. A king had a son who was sick, and the king took him to a distant place to receive the cure. On their way back, the king recounted to his son all of their journeys together. “This is where we slept. Here it was cold. Over there you had a headache.” The king wanted his son to appreciate that not only was the final result- the son’s recovery- important. But the process had significance as well. So too in Parshat Masei, the Torah recounts each stop in the desert as a reminder that there is significance not only in the destination, but in the process as well.
Today our journey is impacted by the CoVID pandemic. It’s on our minds all the time. Everything we do and everything we plan must take the current health crisis into account. We do not know for sure what the future trajectory of this virus will look like. We do not know when we will get back to a sense of normalcy, nor even what that new normal will look like. While the journey is fraught with uncertainty and the destination is unknown, we can still appreciate and find meaning in each day, ie each stop along this wild ride. Just as each stop along the journey in the Midbar was an exercise in Emunah and Bitachon (faith and trust in God) and an opportunity to learn life lessons, so too is it for us during this “Summer of CoVID”.
In many ways this is also the story of the Jewish People in exile, since the destruction of the Temple. We don’t know for sure where the road is taking us. We don’t know the exact time of arrival, or even the precise destination. But we know that God has been with us and He will continue to be with us. Each moment along that journey has the potential for meaning. When we maximize enough moments along this uncertain journey, then we will reach our destination: Redemption.