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Recording the Marches

In this week's Torah portion, Matot/Maaseh, Moses records the itinerary of the Israelites' march from Egypt to the banks of the Jordan River. Moses provides detailed descriptions of each stop along the way, sometimes even recounting memorable moments, such as the death of his brother Aaron.

The purpose of this detailed itinerary may seem unclear. The Israelites are traveling through a desolate desert, and the journey itself is merely a means to an end. Why then does Moses take the time to record every place they stopped and camped? The forty years in the desert held little significance. In fact, within the context of the Torah, most of those forty years are condensed into just a few chapters. One might assume that this period in Israelite history would be best forgotten. Traveling for forty years was a punishment for their lack of belief that God would safely guide and settle them in the land of Israel. During this time, they complained incessantly about issues like a lack of water and food. One would think they would want to erase all reminders of this unfavorable time.

Our summer book club recently completed reading and discussing the book "People Love Dead Jews" by Dara Horn. In the book, Horn provides a partial answer to our dilemma. Wherever Jews have lived in the diaspora, we have made a significant impact. Even in places where we were eventually displaced or, worse, persecuted, we contributed positively to the societies we inhabited. Upon settling, we immediately focused on establishing community institutions such as synagogues, schools, mikvahs, and cemeteries. There is a natural yearning to revisit those places, to seek out the synagogues where our grandparents prayed, the schools where they learned, and the homes they lived in. Even in locations like Germany and Poland, where Jews suffered unimaginable horrors, there exists a nostalgia that draws us back.

I believe Moses was attempting to address this inherent need within the Jewish people. He sought to remind us of where we have been and the lasting impact we made in those places. It serves as a reminder of both the good and the bad times, the lives we lived, the obstacles we overcame, and the mark we left even in forsaken places within an unforgiving desert.

Have you revisited the places where you grew up? Have you taken your children or grandchildren to show them your childhood memories? Have you returned to the places in Europe, Morocco, Libya, Turkey, or Yemen where our grandparents or great-grandparents lived and thrived?

This week's Torah portion emphasizes the importance of maintaining a connection to our ancestral homes.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Bradley Tecktiel


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