“These are the journeys of the Israelites who started out from the land of Egypt, troop by troop, in the charge of Moses and Aaron.” (Numbers 33:1)
Parashat Masei is the last parasha (portion) in the book of Numbers and lists the 42 stops the Israelites made in the desert. It declares, “Moses recorded the starting points (motza-EI-hem) of their various journeys (mas-EI-hem) by the word of God; and these are their journeys, by starting points.” (Num. 33:2). Bachya ibn Pakuda (an 11th century Spanish rabbi and philosopher) notes the reversal of the order of motza-eihem and maseihem and likens this to the different paths people take with regard to God and Torah. Moses starts with the Torah and “journeys” to an intimate relationship with God. Abraham, on the other hand, starts by “journeying” with God and from this develops an intimate relationship with the Torah.
Rabbi Jacob Isaac Horowitz, the Chozeh (Seer) of Lublin (1745-1815; an early Chassidic leader) builds on and expands this idea, claiming the “starting points” are the written Torah and “the word of God” is the oral Torah, or how the Israelites interpret God’s commandments and act upon them. Thus, some come to God through the Torah, and some come to God from within themselves.
Masei affirms there is no single path leading to Jewish engagement and identity. Some do Jewish things because they feel Jewish while others feel Jewish because they do Jewish things. Which is the starting point and which is the journey? It doesn’t much matter; Jewish feelings and Jewish actions nourish one another. Each journey simply brings you to a new starting point.
Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom