Parsha: Matos Maasei (2023)

I have a good friend who would always quote “Life is a journey, enjoy the ride.” I believe there is a lot of meaning in that sentence.

As a people we have been travelling and moving around for the last 2000 years. Jewish philosophy teaches us about the journey the soul makes from heaven until it arrives in this world. Each soul is given a specific part of the world to refine, that was entrusted to that soul. In the words of the Sages, it is called “חלקו בעולם”, – your assigned portion in the world.

The Parsha this week tells us about the 42 Journeys the Jewish people went through in the desert. Each destination had its own story and purpose.

Rabbi Israel Baal Shemtov (1698 –1760) explains that the journey of the Jewish people in the desert parallels the journey of every soul. We all go through the same 42 journeys. We experience all those destination throughout our lifetime, until we reach our destination, when the soul returns to its maker at the end of life.

This may sound sweet and soulful but hang on a minute. Some of those journeys were quite negative experiences! Are we implying that every soul will go through those negative experiences? Is our destiny destined to be one of strife and immoral choices?

There was a very clever student who always tried to outsmart his teacher. One day this “chochem” arrived with a butterfly in his hand. So, the students asked the teacher, “Is this butterfly that I have, dead or alive?”

“Now I finally got him!”, the student thought.
If the Teacher says the butterfly is dead, the student will just release his hands and allow the butterfly to fly away.
If the teacher says the butterfly is alive, then the student will just crush the poor butterfly.

The teacher looked at the student, as the student kept on begging for the teacher to answer. Finally, the teacher said “The answer to your question is…. It’s in your hands……”

With those words, the teacher used the opportunity to impart a golden lesson to this child. “The destiny and future are completely in your hands.” You control your own destiny and are ultimately fully responsible for your own life.

The same applies to our journeys in life. We will experience many journeys, but what we do at those journeys, is our own choice. We can either make the same mistakes others made, or we can take the same journey,  but make better choices and turn those seemingly negative journeys into opportunities for growth and success.

In today’s culture there is a mistaken notion, that we don’t have the potential to change the course of our life. “We just need to accept our fate.”

The takeaway is, we always have control over our future. We can always change our destiny. Each “Journey” has its opportunity for growth. Let’s look out for it!

Shabbat Shalom Rabbi Zalman