In the second Torah portion of this week, Masei, the Torah details the Journey of the Children of Israel through the desert on the way to the land of Israel. Along the way, the Israelites made 42 distinct stops, and the question is why did the Torah detail each and every one of these?
One answer is because G-d intentionally brought the Children of Israel to each place where they could learn and grow there in some specific way–in other words, each location brought another opportunity for the people to mature from their prior being slaves in Egypt for hundreds of years to becoming a free nation of Hashem ready to enter into the Holy Land of Israel.
This lesson was reinforced today at AISH HaTorah, where the community was welcoming in the new Rabbi and his family who were coming to us from London, Israel, Buffalo and now ending up in Rockville, MD. He told a story about how when they were in Buffalo, they would always get asked, “What brought you to [cold and wintery] Buffalo?” and he told how he eventually learned to answer, “That’s a good question and something I’m still trying to figure out.” It was just like the Israelites in the Desert, who did not known why they were going to each stop along the way to the Holy Land, but the key is not whether they knew, but that G-d certainly did!
G-d has a plan and a reason for everything–not only for them, but for all of us. We are all on a journey, and even if we don’t always readily see G-d, it’s part of our core faith that He is always there, He is guiding us, and that everything is for the best. Yet despite our best efforts to have faith, at times, we may feel that we don’t know what we’re doing here–why we’re at this place, at this time, or even how we got here–we may actually feel a little lost. Maybe we just can rattle off a list of “Well I did this and then that and then this other thing happened.” But exactly how we got to where we are, regardless of our best laid plans, is often a mystery to us as human beings. As I often tell students and colleagues in the planning discipline of enterprise architecture, “Man plans, and G-d laughs.”
I think we can all probably look at our lives and wonder quietly or out loud, how did we get to where we are. Yes, we might have had a goal to graduate from X, get married to a Y and have Z children, and work as a distinguished ABC. Maybe those things worked out that way or maybe they didn’t, but likely there are many things that happened along the way in our journey that took us outside our comforts zones as well as far from where we dreamed we’d ever actually end up–both in terms of the challenges and the opportunities.
There is a famous quote, “It’s the journey, not the destination.” While I think it’s wrong to disregard the destination–because it’s important where we end up and what our goals are–the point of the quote is really that it’s the process and the growth and lessons along the way that make us who we are. Hopefully, based on living a good life, we are worthy to end up in a good place both during as well as in the finale of our lives and afterlives.
When we are young, often we think or are incorrectly taught that it’s all in our hands. If only we work hard, meet the right people, do the things that make us successful then everything will be alright and we’ll achieve all our dreams. However, as we get older and wiser perhaps, we come to understand that you can do everything right, but it’s not all up to you!
Sometimes people mistakenly attribute their success to themselves as it cautions in the Torah (Deuteronomy 8:17) “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” Instead, we are reminded (Deuteronomy 8:18) “Remember the L-rd they G-d, for it is He who gives you the ability to produce wealth.”
While we may think we are going about fulfilling our plans and accomplishing our life dreams, the truth is that everything ultimately comes from G-d. He gives you the strength, the health, the family and friends as support, the talent, the opportunity, and the right thoughts in your head and the right words in your mouth to do what you do. Of course, we must do our part and the hard work to find and fulfill our mission in life and to overcome the challenges we face, but we are flesh and blood and in the bigger realm of things, messengers of G-d in fulfilling his bigger plan for all of us. If we open our eyes, we realize that wherever we end up and whatever happens to us is by His merciful decree.