Have you ever noticed that sitting in a stationary chair, a car speeding along the highway, and a plane cruising at altitude pretty much all feel the same? Ignoring the minor bumps inevitably caused by movement, our experience of these three things are identical. This is because humans cannot distinguish velocity. So long as we do not change speed or direction, we are unable to perceive how fast we are moving. Acceleration on the other hand, i.e. change, is easily detected.
The second of this week’s double parsha opens by listing all of the places the Israelites traveled. The second verse says, “Moses recorded the starting points (מוצאהם) of their various marches (מסעיהם) as directed by the Lord. Their marches, by starting point, were as follows:” (Bemidbar 33:2).
Surely the Israelite’s starting point was Egypt and they ended their journey by entering the Land. Why must the Torah specify the places subsequently listed as ‘starting points?’
At Ramah in the Rockies, I have the distinct privilege of taking teens on wilderness backcountry adventures. Just as the Torah describes the travels of the Israelites, we too call our journeys masaot (מסעות). In the backcountry, it is so easy to realize how much truly takes place within one day. It is amazing to recognize how far I can walk from sun up to sun down, and, if I take it step by step, how easily I can overcome barriers previously thought to be insurmountable.
These experiences are so accessible in the backcountry because the wilderness (במדבר) removes the obstacles (think buzzing cell phones, constant advertisements, and a general rapid pace) that insulate us from feeling the bumps of life. In the woods, it is much easier to feel and notice life’s changes as they happen – both physically, emotionally, intellectually, socially, and spiritually.
Even though we may begin a trip at one location and end at another, every morning (and often times other points within a day) offers a new beginning. Every time we stop, learn, grow, and truly experience life – that is a journey all to itself.
This is why I think the Torah goes out of Her way to mention that these locations were fresh starts. By listing our path’s markers, we make space to feel the twists and turns and the ups and downs of life. In this way, we open ourselves up to feeling acceleration – to experiencing and learning to love change. For just like a flame must flicker to burn, so too life must adapt and evolve – it must change.
Whether lost in the Rockies or in the heart of the city, I bless us all to step back and recognize all our starting points – where we learn, where we grow, and how much we are alive.
As a Hebrew song says, “Behold I am alive. And what is this life of mine – behold, it is the Blessed Creator.” To experience the fullness of life is to be in relationship with God.