STATIONS OF OUR LIVES: "Are We There Yet?"
Those of us who survived summer time family trips in the old station wagon will no doubt recall the ritual of the TripTik.
A member of the family would visit the local AAA, and return with a coil-bound volume of thin maps, each page highlighting the highway, gas stations and watering holes along the way.
It was a wonderful way not only to keep track of the journey, but also to provide an answer to the question - page by page - "are we there yet?"
I thought of the TripTik last week as I flew into Burlington, Vermont, rented a car and drove two hours north of Montreal to attend the funeral of my late aunt, Shirley.
As I navigated along Interstate 89, I mused and mulled over my aunt's life. And as I travelled, I noticed road signs which brought to life memories of family trips driving across the US border to vacation in Vermont or New York State.
St. Albans. Swanton. Plattsburgh. Lake George.
And I remembered both happy and challenging times along the way.
And so, as I reviewed this week's Torah portion, Mattot-Mas'ei, I couldn't help but connect in a small way with the travels of the Israelite people, whose journey began decades earlier in Egypt, and who now stands poised to enter the Promised Land.
The Torah tells us that the Jewish people wandered the desert for forty years. But what else do we know?
The Torah tells us that there were forty two stops along the way. In each case, the Israelites set up camp. They unpacked their Succot, identified sources of water, learned to either embrace or avoid their neighbors, established places of meeting, and even carved out spaces for solitude and intimacy.
Our Sages note that it took that long for the "old generation" of slaves to die off, to be replaced by a new, bold and free nation.
Yet I can't help but think about each of those thousands who died in the desert. Each one had hopes and aspirations.
Each one of them struggled to survive. Each worried about the future generation, and how the world would fare after their passing.
Not that different from you and me.
As we bring to a close this week the reading of the fourth book of the Torah, Bamidbar, it's an interesting exercise to consider the many stations which each of us has travelled, which has led us to where we are now.
What schools did we attend? If we served in war, where were the battlefields? As we've struggled through life, where did the most pivotal moments occur? What are the neighborhoods, the work places, the vacations, the pit stops and the water holes which define us?
In some cases, we left with broken hearts. In other places we experienced euphoria. Yet in each location, we managed to find manna and water, friends and moments.
Each one of these stations taught us a lesson. Each guided us and helped mold the person we are today.
For each one of these stops was sacred, whether we realized it at the time or not.
As we close the fourth book of the Torah, let us touch hearts with our tradition, as we consider times when we were wandering through our own wilderness.
Which person in which place helped straighten our path?
This week's Parashah provides us with a TripTik of the Israelites' journey through the desert.
But our Sages tell us in truth, our travels through the wilderness continue all the days of our lives. The answer to the Jewish question of "are we there yet?" is always, "no we are not."
The Torah is our TripTik. Surrounded by friends and family, we travel life's highways, filling in our maps along the way.
And that continues to our last breath.
The poet John Lennon perhaps captured it best when in 1965 he wrote.
There are places I remember
All my life, though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I've loved them all.
On this Shabbat, I remember Aunt Shirley, and those places we have paused or passed through.
For the beauty of this life, is that we get to travel these roads together.
Shabbat shalom, kol tuv (with all goodness)
Rabbi Irwin Huberman