Some years ago I lived the amazing experience of walking the 200 km of the Camino de Santiago .1 I still remember the emotion of arriving at Santiago de Compostela after such a long journey filled with much adventure and discomfort; the tiredness in my legs together with the joy of seeing the towers of the cathedral. We are used to arriving at our destination by car, train or plane, but what one feels when arriving after a seven day walk is very powerful. Although I was very happy, I also felt empty upon my arrival, I had a sense of loss. Yes, I was in Santiago, but then, what? The journey had come to an end and although the city was beautiful and I was having a great time I soon discovered that what makes the Camino so special is not the destination itself. It is not the beauty of Santiago, its cathedral, museums and its delicious food. What it is important is the people one meets during the walk, the nights spent under the stars, sleeping on the ground when the hostel was full, the hospitality offered by the inhabitants of every small village on the way. What I learnt is that the journey is as important as the arrival, using Hemingway’s words: “It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters in the end”.
This week’s Torah portion Masei tells us about the journey that the Israelites made from Egypt to the Promised Land. Masei in fact can be translated as journeys and as Rashi points out we are not talking about one journey, Egypt-Israel, but forty-two different stages that the Israelites went through on their way to Eretz Israel. But why were these journeys recorded in the Torah? The Torah dedicates more words to listing the different places where the Israelites wandered than to any conversation between Abraham and his son Isaac. The Midrash compares the narration of Israel´s travels to a king whose son became sick, so he took him to a faraway place to have him healed. On the way back, the father began citing all the stages of the journey, saying to him, “This is where we sat, here we were cold, here you had a headache etc.” (Midrash Tanhuma, Masei 3). Taking the Midrash I would say that one of the reasons why this is recorded in the Torah is to show us that God was present at every stage of their travels like a good father taking care of his son. Another reason is that these forty-two places represent the diverse forty-two stages that every Jew goes through in life from birth to death. The Ba’al Shem Tov used to say, but if that is what this represents, why then are we given so little information about each stage? This is because these stages are different for each one of us. By giving almost no information about each stage, each one of us can reflect on the different important moments in our lives.
Each one of us walks his own path. We experience our fears, joys, successes, family issues, jobs… in a different way. It is in each one´s journey where we live our own life in an intimate and personal way. We all may come from the same starting point, (represented here by Egypt) and we all may be going to the same destination (represented here by Eretz Israel) but the journey is non-transferable, it is unique to each one of us. It is the journey that matters; it is the journey that makes each one of us unique.
We are now in a very special time of the year which started with the 17 of Tammuz and we will continue with Tisha B’Av, Elul and will culminate with Yom Kippur. This is a spiritual journey from destruction to renewal. Maybe many of us will focus again on the importance of the High Holy Days and this is good. We will write sermons, our choirs will work hard to fill up our synagogues with their beautiful voices, some communities will have to hire extra rooms to accommodate their numerous members, others will struggle to get some rabbinic support for such a special occasion… The risk will be that we may focus too much on the end of our journey and miss the opportunity to use the journey itself for our spiritual growth. This special time in which we are all immersed now is a great opportunity to encounter the divine, as we read “In all your journeys you will know Him” (Mishlei 3:6).
LBC student Rabbi Haim Casas
1.The Way of St. James is a spiritual journey that pilgrims of all faiths and backgrounds have traversed for over a thousand years. This Camino route covers 800 kilometers that traverses an idyllic northern Spanish countryside. Pilgrims walk the Camino for various reasons. Some to seek penance, others enlightenment, and still others for a sense of adventure, yet all progress toward the Cathedral in Santiago where it is believed the remains of the apostle St. James are held.