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A Staff for the Journey

Shepherd with staff

Moses said to the heads of the tribes of Israel: “This is what the LORD commands . . .” — Numbers 30:1

The Torah portion for this week is a double reading, Matot-Massei, from Numbers 30:2–36:13. Matot means branches and Massei means journey. The Haftorah is from Jeremiah 2:4–28; 4:1–2.

Jewish tradition teaches that most of us did not choose to be born. In fact, had it been up to us, we would have stayed in the sweet comfort of heaven next to our loving Father. However, our Father knows what is best for us and He gave us this life so that we can grow and earn even greater rewards. That’s why we find ourselves here on this journey. This week’s double Torah portion provides insights on how to make it through life’s challenges.

Scripture uses two Hebrew terms to refer to the tribes of Israel. The first is shevatim and the second is matot, which is also the name of the first portion that we read this week. Both words refer to branches of a tree, as the tribes were branches of the tree of Israel. However, shevatim are branches that are still attached to the tree and therefore flexible and soft. Matot, on the other hand, refers to branches that have become detached from the tree and have hardened to form a staff or a rod.

The Jewish sages teach that the “branch” and the “rod” are symbols of a soul’s development as it passes from the heavenly sphere into this world. At first, the soul is like a branch directly attached to its source, God. However, the soul is immature, in a sense, because it has never encountered obstacles that keep it from God. It has never developed the strong bonding and maturity that comes with overcoming such obstacles. When a soul passes through this world, it encounters many challenges. When a soul succeeds and clings to God despite the difficulties, it becomes hardened like a rod. It is strong and unbending in its dedication to God.

The name of the second portion that we read this week is Massei, meaning “journeys.” The 42 stops that the children of Israel make on their way to the Promised Land of Israel are symbolic of all the stages and experiences that a person passes through in life. The journey can be tough, and at times, we can become weary. However, when our souls become like matot, strong like a rod, we will have a walking staff to lean upon as we journey through life.

Taken together, these two Torah portions remind us that the support we need to overcome all obstacles can be found within our souls. We can choose to become strong. We can choose to hold onto faith and live lives that are dedicated to God.

Once we do so, we will have all we need to overcome whatever challenges come our way.

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