Category Archives: Parasha

The Jewish Travelers Manifesto

I don’t personally live this way but I greatly admire the minimalist lifestyle. In my opinion we own and carry around with us far too many belongings. It’s not just a problem of Emuna (belief) that one won’t take their  possessions beyond the grave (though ancient Pharaohs believed otherwise).  The more you own – the more you have to worry about maintenance, support, insurance, safety and upkeep of all your stuff. That’s why traveling can be GOOD FOR THE SOUL and why we have a Jewish Travelers Manifesto. Here’s why: Continue reading The Jewish Travelers Manifesto

How high should your standards be?

Preparing for a trip

Part of the fun in going abroad for a vacation after so many years is learning about how much the world of travel has changed. I don’t mean how much our destinations have changed, because I’ve never been in Florence and Venice before. It’s the process of preparing for a trip that’s so different.

For example, how did we book hotels 20 years ago? Ask a travel agent? Look up possible hotels in travel guides, magazines and brochures? Then phone the hotel to book and confirm and hope it’s the best possible deal for our needs. Now it’s completely different. Continue reading How high should your standards be?

Forty-Two Homes in Forty Years

Jewish Genetic Travel Code

If there’s one Parasha in the Torah which expresses the Jewish Genetic Code for traveling, I believe it’s the present one – Mas’ei (“Travels”).

Forty two times is the word vayis’u “and they traveled” repeated in the first chapter. Forty two times the entire nation, men, women and children uprooted themselves from their present neighborhood and moved on. Forty-two homes in forty years.

At first glance it seems like a lot of travel and instability for a traditional family even in biblical times, but Rashi points out a few facts which shed some light on the topic and puts things into proportion.

  1. Fourteen stops were made in the first year in the desert before the sin of the spies (see Shlach – See things as they are)
  2. Another eight stops were made in the last year in the wilderness after the passing of Aharon the Cohen.
  3. That leaves a total of 20 stops in 38 years.

On average 22.8 months of stability in each site. Less than two years.

30 Cities in 30 Days

OK, that’s not exactly long-term permanent residence, but in today’s upwardly mobile, transient, disposable lifestyle, it’s not a far cry from the modern lifestyle , when short-term job-hopping has become a norm. Of course not every job change involves relocation to a new point on the globe, but people today are far more open to change than in any other time in history. Open to change doesn’t always mean a “30 cities in 30 days” journey, but it isn’t 30 years in one job/city either.

BTW, if the idea of 30 cities in 30 days appeals to you, check out this blog; he did 30 photos in each city too…

People do like some change; whether change of scene or change of jobs and some like it more frequent than others.

Take the case of Ted Greenberg, a former suicide researcher turned comedian:

“In August of 2005, I left my position at the Columbia University department of child psychiatry to pursue stand-up comedy full time. Occasionally I receive an inquiry about the U.S. securities market. I left that field in July of 1997. Less frequently, I’m asked for a ride to the airport in a Checker cab. I gave up my hack license in September of 1988. January of 2006 represents five consecutive months of me not changing careers.” (NY Times).

Age and Willingness to Change

Of course not everyone likes frequent changes of jobs and scenery and there is a definite correlation between age and willingness to change.

Forty-Two Homes in Forty YearsAccording to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the younger one is, the shorter their tenure at one employer. The older one is, the longer they’re likely to stay at the same employer. With travel too, the younger crowd is far more likely to backpack around the world than someone in their 50’s and 60’s.

Forty-Two Homes in Forty Years

This brings me back to the 42 stops of the Jewish People in the desert. I assume that the younger kids coped pretty well with all the moving around. Maybe it was even fun and exciting and lots of action. But how did middle-aged parents manage with moving so many times? Pack-unpack-pack-unpack again and again. I’ve personally moved 15 times and the idea of another move sounds horrible to me (unless it’s to a luxurious beachfront cottage in French Polynesia). If I had to move 42 times in 40 years, I’d really lose it.

I believe this question can be answered from a few perspectives.

First of all they didn’t move because their boss suggested a job relocation. They moved because the Almighty Himself told them “GO!”. So they went. You just don’t mess with God, even if it seems inconvenient.

Secondly, they were living at an exceedingly high spiritual level. Every day they experienced open miracles; the Pillar of Cloud, The Pillar of Fire, the Mannah, the Well of Miriam and many more. When you are walking hand in hand with God (so to speak), nothing is really difficult to do. Even to pack up your house and kids 42 times.

Of course all this is valid for people who’ve experienced Mount Sinai and heard God speak, but what message can we take from their experience? We who are living in a much diminished and hidden spiritual realm (Hester Panim).

The Meaning of Travel

This reminds me again of the words of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov in Sichot HaRan 85.

Every person, however simple they are, repairs something in every place they go. After all, they pray there, they eat and bless on the food, and commit acts of holiness wherever they are.

The Jewish People knew that they had a mission to do at each one of the 42 stops. Deep spiritual acts which would affect the course of history and influence the coming generations forever after. When one knows, as they did, that a journey has meaning and significance, then it’s probably easy to pack again and go on.

It’s only when we think a trip is for nothing that we find it so hard. According to Rav Nachman of Breslov, every single trip we take is important, to us, to the people we meet and to generations to come.

Nesivos Shalom related in the name of the Ba’al Shem Tov that the Torah records the nation’s forty-two encampments from when they left Egypt until they entered the Land of Israel, to teach us that every individual must endure forty-two ‘travels’ in his lifetime. Not all of those travels are physical, but every Jew encounters forty-two challenges that confront him.

One who understands that life is a process of growth, views every challenging situation as an opportunity of achieving greater spiritual heights.

Have a safe and meaningful trip.

Shlach – See things as they are

Travel & Parasha

I decided to start a new series of weekly posts linked to the topics of the weekly Torah Reading (Parasha)”. Jews have traveled for millennia from the time of our Forefathers, so I’m sure (with God’s help), I will find in most of the weekly Torah readings, some spiritual insights on Jewish Traveling.

Here’s the opening post of the series for the Parasha of Shelach.

The Twelve Spies

At the beginning of the Parasha, God instructed Moshe to send twelve princes, one from each tribe, to scout the Land of Canaan. In anticipation of a divinely ordered preëmptive strike on the native inhabitants, Moshe told them to retrieve detailed, in-depth HUMINT about the political, agricultural and military situation in Canaan, to ensure a smooth takeover.

Following forty days and nights of touring and gathering intelligence, the twelve spies returned with information and booty. Eight of them carried together one huge cluster of grapes, one carried a single pomegranate and one a single fig.

These ten men declared that on one hand it was a land of milk & honey. On the other hand,  giants roamed the land, the cities were heavily fortified from attack, the fruits that they carried were proof of unnatural agricultural mutations and the locals were dying from unknown causes throughout the country. “In the eyes of the inhabitants, we seem tiny like grasshoppers”.

They concluded that Canaan was impenetrable from attack and that the Jewish People should give up even trying. “We’ll never be able to conquer the Land”, they exclaimed dejectedly.

The remaining two spies, Joshua and Caleb, came empty-handed, and disagreed vehemently with the majority opinion. They faithfully declared that God promised them victory and guaranteed a positive outcome  without question. All the negative issues were part of God’s global plan.

How could it be that these wise and God-fearing princes and leaders observed the same phenomenon, yet reached diametrically opposite conclusions? How could the majority of the princes even doubt God’s ability to give the Jews the Holy Land, as He promised?

The medieval Torah commentator Rabbi Yeshayahu Horowitz (1560-1630) explained that the ten princes had ulterior motives for their negativism. In fact they came with closed minds and preconceived opinions about what they were going to find in Canaan.

While the Jews wandered in the desert, Moshe entrusted them with leadership roles and positions of influence. The moment the Children of Israel would settle in the land of Israel, there would be a complete reshuffle of government, rapidly making them into has-beens. Therefore the ten spies interpreted everything they saw as proof-positive of future defeat in order to indefinitely delay immigration to the Land, and guarantee their continuing leadership.

As we all know, God then decreed that most of the Jewish People would continue wandering for 40 years in the desert, instead of entering the Promised Land, and find their death in the wilderness.

Joshua and Caleb, however, trusting God’s promise and without personal bias, were able to see the beauty of the Land and trusted that everything they observed would ultimately fit into God’s Plan, whether they understood it or not.

See Things as They Are

Tourist too often come to a new site with preconceived notions about the local population and their culture and customs. They filter everything they observe through the familiar reality from back home and through their previous belief system.

It takes a great measure of openness, intellectual honesty and humility to meet with an unfamiliar culture and accept it as it is without judgment or comparison. This is true whether one hails from the East and visits the West or whether one grew up in an advanced technological society and tours the backwaters of Southeast Asia.

Why We Travel

The well-known travel writer Pico Iyer, puts across this idea quite beautifully in his article “Why We Travel” (see link for complete article):

“Yet for me the first great joy of traveling is simply the luxury of leaving all my beliefs and certainties at home, and seeing everything I thought I knew in a different light, and from a crooked angle. In that regard, even a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet (in Beijing) or a scratchy revival showing of “Wild Orchids” (on the Champs-Elysees) can be both novelty and revelation: In China, after all, people will pay a whole week’s wages to eat with Colonel Sanders, and in Paris, Mickey Rourke is regarded as the greatest actor since Jerry Lewis…

Though it’s fashionable nowadays to draw a distinction between the “tourist” and the “traveler,” perhaps the real distinction lies between those who leave their assumptions at home, and those who don’t: Among those who don’t, a tourist is just someone who complains, “Nothing here is the way it is at home,” while a traveler is one who grumbles, “Everything here is the same as it is in Cairo — or Cuzco or Kathmandu.” It’s all very much the same.

But for the rest of us, the sovereign freedom of traveling comes from the fact that it whirls you around and turns you upside down, and stands everything you took for granted on its head…

And the first lesson we learn on the road, whether we like it or not, is how provisional and provincial are the things we imagine to be universal. When you go to North Korea, for example, you really do feel as if you’ve landed on a different planet — and the North Koreans doubtless feel that they’re being visited by an extra-terrestrial, too (or else they simply assume that you, as they do, receive orders every morning from the Central Committee on what clothes to wear and what route to use when walking to work, and you, as they do, have loudspeakers in your bedroom broadcasting propaganda every morning at dawn, and you, as they do, have your radios fixed so as to receive only a single channel).

We travel, then, in part just to shake up our complacencies by seeing all the moral and political urgencies, the life-and-death dilemmas, that we seldom have to face at home. And we travel to fill in the gaps left by tomorrow’s headlines”.

Be then like Joshua & Caleb who saw things as they truly are, and not like the ten other spies who saw what they wanted to see…

The traveler sees what he sees. The tourist sees what he has come to see” (G.K. Chesterton)