Last week, my nephew, Rabbi Roy Feldman, gave a drasha entitled, “Where We Are and Where We’re Going: Reflections on Life in Israel.” It was on Mas’ei, but I think it is relevant to this week’s parsha, as well (which is also a summary of events). In any event, it is well worth sharing. I’m going to give a summary of it, but you really need to follow the link and read the whole thing.
About a month ago, my niece and nephew were in Paris. There, they had the opportunity to visit Synagogue de la Victoire, which, unsurprisingly, is under heavy security. Rabbi Feldman began his drasha with a Hasidic tale that was told over to him by the rabbi of the Paris synagogue, Rabbi Moshe Sebbag.
One Friday eve, in shetl in Czarist Russia, a Rebbe was stopped by a police officer, who demanded to know where the Rebbe was going. The Rebbe replied, “I don’t know.” The infuriated police officer warned the Rebbe to answer or be dragged off to prison. The Rebbe repeated, “I don’t know where I am going,” and was dragged before the local chief of police.
“’How could you say you don’t know where you are going? It’s Friday evening and you’re a rabbi, surely you were going to the synagogue!’
The Rebbe looked up at the police chief and said, ‘When I began my walk this afternoon, headed in the direction of the synagogue, in no way could I have possibly predicted that this evening I would end up in prison. And so you see, chief, we only know where we are, but we never really know where we’re going.’”
Rabbi Feldman points out the relevance of this tale to Parshat Mas’ei, which recounts the travels of B’nei Yisrael in the Midbar. Rashi says that the purpose of this list is to show Chasadav Shel HaMakom (“the kindnesses of the Almighty” ) in that it illustrates that that B’nei Yisrael were not overly burdened during their travels with many short encampments. The list of travel is a “reflection of Hashem’s love for B’nei Yisrael. Even though He punished the people as a result of the sin of the spies and made them travel about the wilderness for 40 years, He nevertheless showed them care and concern throughout this period.”
“But what Rashi doesn’t acknowledge is that at every stop, at each station, no one, including Moshe himself, had the slightest idea of how long the stop would last. Are we here for one year, or for one hour? Should we unpack and build a new tent, a new camp? Or is it advisable to just live out of our luggage and be ready for the next move? It’s an exhausting state of dependence and of reliance. Even more than the rebbe in the story, B’nei Yisrael knew where they were, but they had no idea where they were going.”
It is at this point of the drasha that Rabbi Feldman turns his attention to the Israel, which is where he traveled after leaving Paris. Once in Israel, He was reminded of the story of the Rebbe who knew where he was, but didn’t know where he was going. When he originally planned the trip, he had no idea he would come in a time of war. He then proceeds to describe what is was like to spend Shabbos in Holon, south of Tel Aviv, with sirens constantly going off. (I can’t begin to summarize this–you have to follow the link and read this for yourself.)
Rabbi Feldman also describes how Israelis are pulling together in this crisis. His cousin’s bakery in Giv’at Shmuel ran out of challah mid-day Friday (usually they have challahs leftover at 4:00 closing time) because so many people were hosting friends and family from Ashdod and Ashkelon for Shabbos, to give them respite. Even after the bakery ran out, people kept pouring in hoping to find challah.”We may not know where we’re going, but we know where we are,” notes Rabbi Feldman.
“The outpouring of chesed in Israel to the families affected by the rockets and the soldiers involved in both the Iron Dome system and later the ground invasion in Gaza is unimaginable and unparalleled.” The hospital he visited in Petach Tikvah had received so many donations cake for wounded soldiers that even after giving it to the soldiers and to the rest of the patients, they still had too much. Going to donate blood–on the same day a call went out asking for donations for wounded soldiers at Beilinson Hospital–he found out that the appointments for giving blood were booked through to the next week.
Rabbi Feldman concludes by observing that “We know where we are, we don’t know where we’re going” is the way to “sum up the feeling in Israel during this war.”
“No one has any idea how or when this will end– I remember on the fifth day of the operation, every commentator on every major news channel in Israel was saying ‘we are closer to the end than we are to the beginning.’ Obviously, they were wrong, but they had no idea. Nevertheless, the feeling in Israel is clear. By the end of our trip, the restaurants in Tel Aviv were full again, if not by tourists, by Israelis. We have to continue living our life, and we have to give tzedakkah to and do chesed with those who are most significantly impacted by this situation. Even though we don’t know where we’re going, at the very least, we need to know where we are.”