Dudes, I know that parshas Matos-Massei is so yesterday, but I got somethin’ to say about it, so ya’ll are gonna listen. ‘Kay?
This past week’s Torah portion recounts the forty-two pit-stops taken by the Israelites on their journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. The narrative flow from the previous parsha literally stops so the Torah can tell us, “They journeyed from Elim and camped by the Red Sea. They journeyed from the Red Sea and camped in the desert of Tzin. They journeyed from the desert of Tzin and camped in Dofkah…”, with a little bit of commentary for selected locations.
What’s up with this? Who cares? Don’t we already know all the places they’ve been? Haven’t we been following them through these pit-stops in “real time” every week?
This Torah portion is the very last in Sefer Bamidbar (the Book of Numbers), which makes it the bridge between Bamidbar and the next book of the Torah, Devarim (Deuteronomy). Sefer Devarim is, in a nutshell, Moshe’s summary of the previous four books, and his last instructions to the Israelites before his passing and their entry into the Land of Israel.
So at this point, they’re gearing up for the Main Event – the transition out of their easy, spiritually-oriented desert life into the much more challenging life of earthly existence – no more manna for breakfast, no more constant meditation and study – and the labor of transforming physicality into G-dliness.
This is precisely why they must stop to recount the journeys that have gotten them to where they are now, the spiritually-saturated life they’ve led up until here.
The Frierdiker Rebbe writes extensively about the power of memory to recharge us in Likkutei Dibburim. When we are facing a new stage in life – or even just feeling spiritually dry – we can draw strength from the narrative of our own personal journeys. We can plug into the energies of the past and use them to recharge our batteries, to inspire us to transform our current reality into something better: “Here is where I knew for sure that G-d is in every single detail of my life; here is where I was so connected to my soul; here is where I failed horribly but recovered; it’s a freaking miracle that I am where I am today; I don’t like where I am, but I know I am on my way to a better place.”
Make time every once in a while to soak in your most powerful positive memories. Just make sure not to drown there. You have to use the energy of the past to propel yourself forward, to take what was good and keep it with you – not to lament for the “good ‘ol days.” You have the power to create even better days, and memory is a potent tool with which to do so.
(I’m feeling less like Will Smith now).