Commentary for Masei

25 Jul

This week’s parshah is best know for its listing of the places the Israelites have travelled to and camped in from the time they left Egypt until they reached their current location on the Eastern bank of the Jordan River, about to cross into the Promised Land. Strangely, this section, a long list of places the Israelites have been, written in the form “they set out from Here and they encamped There,” with very short references to stories that we have already read thrown in occasionally, is read with a special cantillation reminiscent of the special cantillation used for the Song of the Sea. Why should a dry list of places the Israelites have camped be infused the same special joy as a moment of spontaneous thanksgiving and rejoicing at the salvation of our entire nation?


Looking to this week’s Haftarah, we find a very different tone. This Hafatarah, the second of the three Haftarahs of admonition before Tisha B’Av, is the beginning of the prophet Jeremiah’s rebuke of the Israelites. “Thus said the Lord: What wrong did your ancestors find in Me that they abandoned Me and went after delusion and were deluded. They never asked themselves ‘where is the Lord, who brought us up from the land of Egypt, who led us through the wilderness, a land of deserts and pits, a land no man had traversed, where no human being had dwelt (Jer. 2:5 – 6)?’” Although it may seem dull and humdrum, when viewed in the terms Jeremiah puts it in, the Israelites journey through the desert is absolutely miraculous, and fully deserving of the celebratory cantillation of the Song of the Sea.


In our society we often find ourselves looking at the world with a “what have you done for me lately?” attitude, and this often carries over to our view of religion as well.   From this parshah we learn that it is important to remember all of the things that seem small and routine that are, in and of themselves, miraculous. Even the seemingly simple fact that our bodies’ function is miraculous when you think about just how complex an organism a human being is. Just like the cantillation in this week’s parshah does for the list of the Israelites journeys, we can take every little miracle and use it to fill our lives with joy.

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