Parashat Mattot Mass’ei 5780

15 July 2020 – 23 Tammuz 5780

Rabbi Aaron Goldstein – 15th July 2020


For the last few of years, the summer edition of Davar, NPLS’s newsletter has focused on the Jewish travel experiences of our members. As well as boasting as a member, Cathy Winston, the travel editor for the Jewish Chronicle, congregants wrote last year about Crete and Corfu, Dubrovnik and Copenhagen and New Delhi’s Judah Hyam synagogue. Regrettably, this year we have not had such a feature, rather a ‘what we are reading at home.’

Numbers 33, the opening chapter of the sidrah, Mase’ei, reads like a travel itinerary about the stages of the Israelites wandering in the wilderness.

The medieval Biblical Commentator, Rashbam states simply: the Torah reviews all the journeys in order to list all the locations where they camped.

His grandfather, Rashi, somewhat more interestingly identifies the accounting for each stage of the journey as a sign of God’s benevolence. Rashi even knocks down the stages to 20 from 42 by discounting those in the first year before the decree of wandering and those after Aaron’s death. All to illustrate that despite decreeing their death in the wilderness, God did not wish to make the experience of the Exodus generation too difficult, allowing them numerous rest stops along the way.

Martin Buber suggests that journeys lead to secret places of which the traveller is unaware.

Perhaps the purpose of the wilderness trek was not only about a generation dying out: It was about the next generation being inspired and steeped in the heritage of their ancestors. Their inheritance was not only the land that they were assigned in the Promised Land, it was the family stories and legends, the narrative of a People, Israel.

I was amazed and delighted to be sent a photo by my nephew when on a trip to Amsterdam with two mates from our Shul to celebrate the conclusion of their school final exams. They were obviously proud to show their uncle and Rabbi that they had visited the Jewish Museum and the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue. I assume that they visited a few other places in Amsterdam but their pride in being Jewish shone through, a journey to a secret place of their soul. This journey was part of them owning the family stories and legends, the narrative of a People, Israel.

Not knowing where it would lead, my father, Rabbi Dr Andrew Goldstein delivered a Yom Kippur sermon 40 years ago. It led to hundreds of our synagogue congregants and hundreds from other communities inspired by Dad and to journey to the Czech and Slovak Republics to connect with the towns and cities their Torah Scrolls had come from. If you or your community have a Czech or Slovak scroll or would just like to be part of the special journeys to explore and commemorate a past whilst connecting to a new, growing Progressive community, please contact me.

And a new adventure has begun for our community thanks to EUPJ and our desire to support Progressive Communities in Ukraine. Having ‘lost’ our connection to Simferopol when Russia annexed Crimea, we used remaining funds to sponsor a conference for Ukrainian Progressive Jewish educators with a side agenda of us finding a suitable new community to connect with.

We have found this in Lviv (Lvov, Lwow, Lemberg). In the city that is emblematic of a whole region whose Jewish population were numerous and influential and were then wiped out, we are twinned with the Teiva Progressive Congregation. A congregant who accompanied me with 7 others on one of our trips, whose father survived being born in Lwow, described this community as a phoenix.

Each visit I have made to Lviv has revealed secret destinations. They reveal the aching need of many whose ancestry is inextricably entwined with the city’s history combined with the desire of others to support and experience a phoenix rising.

This week, our LJY-NETZER Israel Tour was due to have departed. I am gutted for them that they are unable to experience such a vital life experience. For them and for us all, we hope that we can get back to our travels that so often are not just about relaxation but about reinforcing our Jewish identity.

As Martin Buber said: “All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.”

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