I was asked to post a Dvar Torah online that I had given this past Shabbat. I have agreed to do so, and here it is:
This past Shabbat I was in Teaneck, NJ. I stayed with my good friends, Sheryl and David Blass. It so happened that this particular Shabbat, the Sisterhood of Arzei Darom would be having their annual Sisterhood Potluck Seudat Shlishit. I was thrilled that I would be there to participate in this event as I really missed all my women friends from Arzei Darom since I moved away in May 2010.
Late Friday afternoon, I was settled in at the Blass home when I heard Sheryl talking on the phone. She was speaking with Adina Littwin who was coordinating the Sisterhood Potluck Seudat Shlishit. The conversation was about the fact that they needed someone to speak and I believe that Adina was asking Sheryl to give a Dvar Torah at the event. Sheryl saw me nearby and she said to Adina, “Rachel Stern is here. She will do it. She will give the D’var Torah!”. And, before I had a chance to object she hung up. She turned to me and grinned – “You are giving the D’var Torah at the Sisterhood event tomorrow!”.
I was, of course, a bit dismayed, but ready to rise to the challenge. In a panic though, I grabbed a Chumash and then logged onto the internet in the hopes of finding some scintillating tidbits having to do with that weeks parsha. I knew, of course that I would relate it to my making aliyah, that went without saying – but that seemed too easy!
As I scanned the various articles I found online regarding Parshat Maasei, I did find something that I liked. Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Weinreb had written something interesting about Maasei.
Maasei, means “journeys” and Parshat Maasei starts off enumerating each of the “journeys” the Jews made while in the midbar, the desert. It enumerated 42 “way stations”, stops the Jews made on their way to the Promised Land – Eretz Yisrael. These journeys were far from the type of journeys we make nowadays – vacations, travel to exotic islands, trips to resorts and spas, enjoyment of theme parks – the journeys of the Jews in the midbar were fraught with many trials and tribulations.
Yet, the leining of this portion of the parsha is done in a cheerful tune, a marching tune. This then is the question Rabbi Weinreb poses – why, if the journeys were not happy ones, do we chant it in a happy tune? He goes on to explain that these were not journeys without a destination, these were not journeys without a goal. Endless journeys, filled with trials and tribulations would be unbearable. Additionally, the destination is no mere destination. It is the destination that is a gift from Hashem, the gift of the Holy land, Eretz HaKodesh, Eretz Yisrael. So, not only did the Jews HAVE a destination, but they had a destination that was wondrous! Thus, the words of the parsha may convey the serious side, the trials and tibulations, but the tune of the leining conveys the happiness, the simcha of knowing we will eventually reach our destination and that destination will be wonderful!
Now, there is no way that I can read this and not come away with a more personal meaning for myself. To explain this I have to take you back many years – to the year I was 12 years old and Bat Mitzvah. When I was Bat Mitzvah, I became responsible for my own mitzvot, and my own sins. No longer would my parents bear this burden. It was now MY burden and my responsibility. I like to think that MY journeys began at age 12, when I became Bat Mitzvah. Now, I am going to give away my age here (although I have never been particularly shy about that anyway), but that was FORTY YEARS AGO. Think about this – the Jews wandered in the desert for FORTY YEARS before they were able to enter into the promised land.
Well, I spent forty years, on many journeys and many stops along the way. I too, experienced many trials and tribulations. And now, forty years after my Bat Mitzvah, I am making aliyah. I am leaving my own personal midbar and enteriing the Holy land, Eretz HaKodesh.
So, this parsha is very close to me and very personal. It is my fervent wish, dream, and prayer that we all will be zocheh to meet once again, like this, but in Eretz HaKodesh, Eretz Yisrael.