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Mattot-Masei
Numbers 30:2-32:42, 33:1-36:13        Haftorah: Jeremiah 2:4-28, 3:4, 4:1-2Shabbat, July 29, 2000 - 26 Tamuz 5760

Rabbi Stephen M. Wylen                                          More Torah commentary

“These are the journeys of the Israelites who started out from the land of Egypt, troop by troop, in the charge of Moses and Aaron. Moses recorded the starting points of their various marches as directed by Ad-nai. Their marches, by starting points, were as follows: They set out from Raamses...” (Numbers 33:1-3).

It is well known to all that the usual interpretation of this passage is that the 42 stages of the journey of the Israelites in the desert is symbolic of all the exiles and wanderings of the Jewish people, who were driven from our homeland to wander the earth until the time of the Messiah, and our exile is a form of expiation for all the sins of the world.

One should understand that for one who lifts up his legs to go to study Torah, who exiles himself from his hometown to a place of Jewish learning, such a journey also counts as one of the “journeys of the Israelites by the command of Ad-nai”. That is why the great Jewish scholars of olden times used to leave their home and family and go to a place where there was a great yeshiva. As Hillel said, “Go and learn!” (based on a comment in “Itturei Torah”.)

American Jews feel so at home in our country that we might forget that to feel like a Jew means to feel like a homeless wanderer upon this earth. Even a Jew living in the Land of Israel is still in exile, for over the centuries our concept of the Jewish exile expanded from one of geography to an

understanding of the alienated nature of individual human being. Only when a person has achieved the level of being one with nature, one with God, and one with all fellow human beings, will exile end.

This might never be, but do not despair, because we have made a virtue out of exile. Through understanding that we are living in galut, in exile, we can open our eyes to the sorrow of the human condition, and through this clear-sighted view of humanity we can do penance for humanity, thus bringing closer the day when all exile shall end and all people shall be at peace with themselves and one another (in that order, for there shall be no peace without inner peace).

If it is a mitzvah to acknowledge our condition of exile, the highest form of this mitzvah is to accept exile for the sake of Torah, since Torah learning is the purest form of expiation.

In former times bright Jewish youths traveled great distances in order to find a good yeshiva. (Remember the tavern scene in the movie Yentl, when all the lads gathered at the inn in the regional center, after Pesach, in order to decide where to go for their next semester of yeshiva!)

Rashi, the great Torah scholar, traveled to the Rhineland to learn at the great centers of Torah in his day. He came home to Troyes, in France, in make his home an even greater yeshiva, and students came to him from all over Europe.

How far must we go, and how far are we willing to go into exile in order to learn Torah?

Rabbi Stephen M. Wylen is rabbi of Temple Beth Tikvah in Wayne, New Jersey.

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