Re’eh: The Journey and the Resting Place

Copyright 2011 Neal Joseph Loevinger

Torah Portion: Re’eh

We’re going through some transitions at the Central Headquarters of
Rabbineal-list here in Newton Centre, MA. I’m packing up to move to
Poughkeepsie (see link below) and so for the last time, I offer you
greetings from the beautiful summer climes of the greater Boston area.
(Rest assured, I may be leaving this great Commonwealth, but I’m not
giving up honorary citizenship in Red Sox Nation, even if I am moving
to New York.)

So I’m packing up- or, more accurately, procrastinating when I need to
be packing up- and a verse from this week’s Torah portion just jumped
out at me. In this week’s parsha, Re’eh, Moshe tells the people that
when they get into the Land, sacrificial worship will be centralized
in one place. Apparently, at this point in Israelite history, people
are making their offerings as they please, despite the lengthy rules
given in Exodus and Leviticus for building one Sanctuary at the center
of the camp. (See the Etz Hayim commentary, at the beginning of
chapter 12, for a short discussion of this history.)

Thus, after Moshe tells the people that they must not worship the way
the native Canaanites do, he also tells them that their own practice
will have to change once they arrive in their tribal settlements:

“You shall not act at all as we now act here, every man as he pleases,
because you have not yet come to the resting place, the inheritance,
that the Lord your God is giving you.” (Dvarim/ Deuteronomy 12:8-9,
modified JPS translation.)

The phrase at the heart of verse 9 is “al ham’nucha v’al hanachala,”
which I’ve translated as “the resting place, the inheritance,” but
could also be translated as “the rest and the inheritance,” or “the
allotted resting place.” According to Etz Hayim, the reason Moshe
connects the “resting place” of the Land and the need to centralize
worship is that once the people are fully settled, they’re going to
have to make it safe for worshippers to travel to the Sanctuary.
Perhaps a nomadic people dealing with the challenges of the journey
hasn’t been ready for that level of social organization, or perhaps
the stresses of the journey through the desert have preoccupied the
people, but whatever the case, things will change once the tribes
settle in their allotted lands.

On the other hand, what struck me about the verses quoted above is the
emotional impact these words probably have had on the weary but
excited Israelites. After all, even though this is the second
generation since the Exodus, it must have been somewhat shocking to be
told: “Getting to the land is not the end point of the journey! Once
we get there, we have lots more to do, and the rest and peace you
hoped for is still some time in the future, even if we’re on the
borders of the place we’ve been moving towards for 40 years.”

I can only imagine that the Israelites were happy and excited to see
the borders of the Land in the distance, thinking “this is it! We’ve
reached the end of the journey!” Moshe had to tell them: this is not
the end, this is the beginning of a new phase of your development as a
people and as a nation. The Israelites probably could not imagine life
beyond arrival at the Promised Land, yet they had to rethink the
meaning of their sojourn once they arrived, in order to realize that
the Land itself was not the goal. Rather, becoming the community they
were meant to be, which could only happen in their homeland, was the
longer and deeper goal. To put it another way, they had to learn that
the Land of Israel was a way of being together, an internal state, as
much as a physical place.

What is true for the Israelites continues to be true for each of us:
repeatedly throughout life, we think “aha, this is it, we’re here,”
yet it turns out to be but a stage in a longer, less predictable
process of growth and journey. In my own life, each time I’ve arrived
at a goal or vision, it turns out to be only the gateway to things I
didn’t even imagine existed. The challenge, of course, is to embrace
the next stage of growth and be open to what is beyond even that. We
are never fully at the “resting place” or “allotted inheritance,” but
may orient ourselves toward it every hour, and every day, and get
closer over the unfolding years.

Shabbat Shalom,

RNJL

PS- as usual, the first link has a summary and further commentary on
Re’eh, and the second link has the texts of the parsha and haftarah
(if it’s not switched over from last week yet it will be in a few
days):

http://www.myjewishlearning.com/texts/Weekly_Torah_Commentary/reeh_index.htm

http://www.jtsa.edu/community/parashah/index.shtml

To learn more about the new International World Headquarters of
Rabbineal-list, see here:

http://poughkeepsie.uscjhost.net/

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