Arrivals and Departures
Beshalach (Exodus 13:17-17:16 )
“Dad,” my five year-old recently inquired while en route to school, “why is our little car travelling on a yellow road instead of a pink road?” Our portable GPS, you see, offers two functions. As a default position, it depicts your vehicle travelling through whatever neighborhood you are in and provides a map of the streets and avenues in your immediate vicinity. In this mode, the screen shows your car travelling on a yellow road. If, however, you enter the co-ordinates of a specific destination, then the screen depicts your vehicle travelling along a pink road.
“Well, Mordechai, good question. You see we didn’t enter in any place that we’re going to.”
“Well, why don’t we enter a destination?”
“Good point,” I responded, “because this time, we already know where we are going.”
This brief exchange reminded me how much hinges on having clarity as to our destination(s) in life. Regardless of one’s sophistication, irrespective of one’s industriousness and notwithstanding one’s creativity, the extent to which our potential will be actualized depends largely on the degree to which we can identify and articulate our life’s mission. For those who maintain a clear vision of where they are headed in life, resources (spiritual, mental, physical, financial and emotional) can be effectively harnessed to achieve those goals. On the flip side, those who lack that fixity of purpose will invariably find valuable personal resources flittered away.
That being said, one cannot deny how, sometimes, the arrival at a particular destination pales in significance to the journey itself. For instance, “Fly Without Fear” is organization that offers a program to systematically assuage their clients’ debilitating fears and anxiety associated with air travel. The program offers a “graduation” flight from New York’s JFK to New York’s LaGuardia airport.
Now, one need not be Magellan to realize that there are more efficient ways to travel the ten miles that separate the two locations (even with traffic on the Van Wyck). So, why bother with the flight?
The answer is simple – there is something much greater to be gained by this voyage – i.e., the conquering of one’s fears – then the mere destination itself.
On similar lines, every Passover I take my kids for a trip on the Long Island Rail Road. The destination is entirely irrelevant because the purpose of the endeavor is not the arrival but the “getting there.” The excitement when the conductor’s rapid-fire hole-punching of your ticket. Guessing which commuter will fall asleep next. Watching the Long Island streets whirr past. It’s about wholesome family-bonding, not about beating rush hour.
“They arrived at Elim, where there were twelve springs of water and seventy date-palms; they encamped there by the water.” (15:27)
“They journeyed from Elim … and the entire assembly of the Children of Israel complained against Moshe and Aharon in the Wilderness.” Rashi: Because the bread that they took out of Egypt was finished.” (16:1-2)
“The entire assembly of the Children of Israel journeyed from the Wilderness … they encamped in Rephidim and there was no water for the people to drink.” (17:1-2).
What’s going on here?! Who booked this Caterer and how come we are sorely lacking in basic supplies such as bread and water? Am I to believe that God, having dismantled Egypt and, in so doing, having demonstrated total control over every facet of nature can’t also provide a continental breakfast along the way?
The answer is self-evident. The odyssey of the Jewish People in the Wilderness was not so much about getting to their destination; but rather in the lessons and awareness to be gained by the travels along the way. Lessons in faith (as evidenced by the manna). Teachings in how to rely on the wise counsel of our leaders. Training in being satisfied with one’s lot. An education in learning to live with less. These and many more which would essentially become the core curriculum for the Jewish People to study and inculcate for all eternity.
We all know these experiences. When we opt for the scenic route precisely because it’s scenic (even if it’s not necessarily efficient). Baking that cake with the little ones precisely because of the fun of it (even though it will take three times as long and generate double the mess). The key of course is to realize that every destination and every means of getting there has a particular purpose and a specific message to be acquired and internalized.
So it is with the Divine GPS that shepherds us – All-Knowingly and All-Lovingly – through life. Some destinations are clearly more pleasant than others. And yet all are purposeful. Some trips are more aggravating than others. And yet none are random. May we merit to appreciate both the “arriving” and the “getting there” of our life’s journeys and may Hashem continue to shepherd His Beloved flock to pastures where we can grow and thrive and live fully.