Blog Post

Constancy and Motion

We read two Torah portions this week. The first is named Mattot, the plural of Matteh, which means “the tribes.” The Portion begins with the words “Moses spoke to the heads of the tribes (Mattot).” In Hebrew the word Matteh also means “a staff” which is a firm stick cut from a tree, aptly chosen to describe the tribes of Israel. The second portion we read is named Massei, which means “journeys,” this portion lists the various stages in the journey of the Jewish people from Egypt to the promised land.

On Shabbat we will read these two portions together, yet their names which intimate their content, could not be at greater odds. The name Mattot, referring to the tribes, who are like “staves”, represents the idea of anchored firmness, an inflexible nature. The name Massei “the journeys” represents the exact opposite, constant movement and change. These two ideas are diametrically opposed yet we will read them both together, on Shabbat.

In unifying these two conflicting ideas, the Torah is communicating a fundamental principal, with practical application to our daily lives. Constancy and motion are not two differing choices, one of which can be selected and applied to ourselves based on our personalities or world view. Constancy and motion are both essential components that are necessary for us to live a healthy and divinely inspired life.

Life is a Journey and the Torah teaches us that Life’s journeys are not a means to an end but a means in themselves. Wanting to ensure a successful journey requires us to see to it that our Journey is anchored in a solid principled foundation.

Our souls are analogous to staves, the staff is cut from a tree, and so to our souls. Preceding our souls descent into a physical body to be born into this world, our soul was ensconced under the heavenly throne basking in the glory of G-D. Upon birth our soul enters a physical world, cut from its spiritual tree and without the close contact it previously had with the divine. Our soul now has to journey through life and contend with all the obstacles and challenges posed, by a materialistic world.

Our soul needs to be like a staff, firm and strong. This is achieved by rooting ourselves in divine truths and values, thereby building and consolidating a firm and unshakable base for ourselves. Having achieved this, we now have the strength to successfully navigate challenges and overcome adversity, which in turn makes us even stronger, but we don’t stop there. All of the above is a prerequisite to what comes next – Life’s journeys. Having ourselves solidly anchored we can now confidently set out on the journey of life and aspire to attain greater heights. The journey of life is not a luxury we can choose to skip, it is the very reason we are here, so we must relish every moment of every day of our journey, and make it as meaningful and productive as possible. This is the meaning of Mattos Massei combined together, it is the anchored journey, the most meaningful and successful way we can live our lives.

They say the most important sign at a meeting is the exit sign. In recovery, we can all look back and remember the moment we made the decision, not to use, or drink, or gamble anymore. That was the moment in which we began developing into a “staff.”  As we continued into early recovery, which is fraught with peril, and managed to successfully navigate from one challenge to another, we further strengthened our staff, and created for ourselves a solid foundation anchored in sobriety and honesty. The trouble is, that when some of us reach this junction, we stop moving forward or growing spiritually. We are quite satisfied with the fact that we are no longer slaves to our addiction and we don’t set out on the “journey” that our new found sobriety has now made possible.

The Torah is teaching us that the constant of sobriety, while very important, is not enough, Mattos “staves is only one half of our mission in life. We must also be in motion continuously, growing and achieving in the spirit of Massei “journeys.” It is the exit sign that is most important, It’s what we do with the opportunity we now have as a result of our sobriety that really distinguishes between a life we survived to a life well lived.

Rabbi Meir Kessler