אַל תַעֲבִרֵנוּ Al Ta’avireinu — do not cause us to go over. This week we read the double portion of Matot-Ma’asei, the story of the journeys of the tribes of Israel. Reuben and Gad possessed a great number of cattle and had, along with all the Israelites, been traveling toward the Promised Land for 40 years. These two tribes felt that the lands of Jazer and Gilead would be a more suitable place to settle because they possessed enormous amounts of livestock. They came to Moses with this seemingly innocent request, אֶת הַיְַרדֵּן אַל תַעֲבִרֵנוּ–“do not move us across the river Jordan”. They were not acting out of malice, distrust, or loss of faith in God or Moses’ leadership. Rather, they were just trying to do what was best for their families. But they were met with great anger and scorn by Moses, who accused them of turning the minds and hearts of the Israelites away from crossing into Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel). Moses reminded them that their fathers, after surveying the Land at Moses’ request, had corrupted the people the same way decades earlier, forcing the Israelites into 38 more years of wandering in the wilderness. So, they struck a deal with Moses: they would build homes for their families and livestock to stay back in these fortified towns, but because they wanted to keep their word, they themselves would go out as shock-troops, promising not to return to their homes until every Israelite possessed a portion of the Land. Moses accepted this offer.
I can’t help but compare this story and the feelings of the characters involved to the feelings of many of us this past year as we slogged our way through the pandemic. Many of us may also feel this now, as we return to in-person, multi-access worship. “Do not cause us to cross over.” We are comfortable in our homes. We are afraid of the new Delta Variant, etc. Even I find myself often struggling with impatience, wanting us to get back quickly, to just go back to the way we used to do things in person. But like the tribes of Reuben and Gad, I need to be moved. We all need to be challenged from our comfort zone. Just last week, my beloved father-in-law had outpatient surgery at Mayo Clinic and was very afraid prior to going into the hospital. My mother-in-law was even more frightened. She fretted about how she would live without Dad if anything happened to him, as she is reliant on his understanding of technology to stay connected to the outside world. I adore her with all my being, yet I can also see that she needs to be moved to learn. She relies on Dad to use a smartphone, to use the computer, and to be on social media. I can understand she needs to be moved to gain more independence. I, too often, find myself waiting until Ross gets time to help me with this or that technological matter. In these moments, I think of Mom and also try to channel Rabbi Heaps, who is a tech wizard, and try to push myself further to solve the problem. I’m successful maybe 25% of the time…but hey, that’s moving!
In Ma’asei, Moses records the journeys of the tribes of Israel, starting at the beginning of these journeys, during the month of Nisan when we celebrate Pesach. He remembers how they survived the extraordinary challenges associated with the Exodus from Egypt, how they survived it and came out better for it. Let us try and use this as a metaphor to stay on the journey towards health, to trust in what our scientists are saying, in the safety that they are encouraging, with life-saving vaccinations. Let us believe them when they say we are protected, and to have faith that if we have the courage to “move” ourselves beyond our comfort zones, we will be better humans for it. By the same token, let us all be patient with one another (me especially), and trust that each individual will continue to make the best decision they see fit to ensure their own safety and well-being. May we have the confidence to know that we will come together in HEALTH and LOVE, and that these will prevail.
Ross, Zev, Abigail, and I would be incredibly honored if you would join us at our home, this Saturday at 5:30pm with our new Director of Congregational Learning, Matt Rissien! We will be leading you in a very special Tot/Family Havdallah. We’re just in Wilmette, 617 Hibbard Road. Register here and bring your bathing suit to go swimming and water sliding after we say goodbye to Shabbes!!