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  • Light of Torah

Life ... A Journey of Many Steps


“These were the marches of the Israelites…”


Thus begins Numbers 33. This chapter reviews the travels of the Israelites from their departure from Egypt to the point where they stand ready to enter the Promised Land.


Commentators have long been fascinated by the detailed itinerary and apparent tedium of this text. Read it and see for yourself. The people set out on their wilderness trek and marched from A to B, from B to C, from C to D, from D to E and so on.... this is the pattern for nearly 50 verses! An unsuspecting reader can be forgiven for wanting to skim this part of the text and skip ahead. However, the Jewish sages of old, with their creative, insightful approaches to the sacred text, and steeped in storytelling traditions, teach us otherwise.

What wells of refreshment are to be found in the apparent ‘dryness’ of such a passage?

With the sages, be patient as you read this long, repetitious passage. Relax. Read aloud, perhaps sharing the reading with a friend. Listen to the rhythm. Allow it ‘inside’ you, drawing you into the march. Observe how the text speaks to you through the litany of place-names.


Said one parishioner who read this text:


“As I read along I found myself entering into the rhythm of the ‘march’… drawing me into a kind of contemplative experience. For the Israelites this was an epic journey—to the Promised Land, no less—yet comprised of lots of little journeys. So much of life is like that! I have noble goals—to raise a family, to accomplish important things at work—yet living those goals involves numerous ordinary, tedious steps: I woke up at 6 o’clock, and changed my baby’s diaper. After I changed his diaper I organized the kids for school. Wh