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On Holy Ground

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At the LORD's command Moses recorded the stages in their journey. This is their journey by stages: Numbers 33:2

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.

The popular saying "the grass is always greener on the other side" resonates with just about everyone. In fact, recent studies have shown that this line of thought is at an all-time high due to social media. Everyone posts the highlights of their life, not their difficulties. As a result, many people feel like they are the only ones with a less-than-perfect lawn, leaving them depressed about their lives and longing to be in a different space - where the grass is greener.

This week, we read a double Torah portion. The second portion, Massei, meaning "journeys," recalls the 42 stops the Israelites made during their 40-year trek in the desert. The second verse in this section reads, "At the LORD's command Moses recorded the stages in their journey. This is their journey by stages." Notice that the last part of the verse is the mirror image of the first part. First the verse says that Moses recorded "the stages in their journey." But the order is reversed when we read "their journey by stages."

What's the significance of this switch in the wording?

The Jewish sages explain that the first part refers to God's perspective on the travels in the desert. The stages on the way were intended as a means toward moving the Israelites further along their spiritual journey. However, the Israelites, like the rest of us, saw the journey as the means to getting to a better material stage in life. At each stop they were hoping that the proverbial grass would be greener.

It's natural for us to want to improve our lives and hope for a better future, but at the same time, we are selling ourselves short if we don't appreciate the place we are in right now. Back in Exodus 3:5, God tells Moses, " . . . the place you are standing is holy ground." The sages comment that the place where we are all standing right now is, indeed, holy ground. The situation that we find ourselves in right now is tailor-made for us so that we might grow to be our very best. It's easy to think the grass somewhere else is greener, but the truth is first, that it's probably not, and second, even if it is greener, it is certainly not holier.

The lesson of the many journeys that the Israelites took in the desert is to remember that no matter what stage we are at in our own life journey, it's the best place that we can possibly be. There are opportunities for growth and change that can enhance our lives for a lifetime - wherever our journeys may take us.

With prayers for shalom, peace,

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President


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