By Lesley Levin
This week’s Torah portion is a double portion. The portions of Mas’ei and Matot are the last two portions in the book of Numbers. I am going to focus on the parshah Mas’ei (marches) that begins with a review of the Israelites’ travels through the wilderness. As Tamara Cohn Eskenazi and Elizabeth Goldstein point out in “The Torah, A Women’s Commentary” women form the bookends of Israel’s journey from slavery.
In the book of Exodus we learn about the midwives Shiphrah and Puah, Moses’s mother, Jochebed, his sister, Miriam and Pharaoh’s daughter. The book of numbers ends with a recounting of the story of the five daughters of Zelophehad.
In chapter 33:1-37 we have the longest list of all of the places where the Israelites encamped. The book ends with a look at where the journey will take the Israelites into the future. This emphasizes for us the importance of both looking at where we came from and where we are going.
In her book, “Torah Journeys”, Shifra Gold says, “Sometimes I think of my life as a long interesting journey. Mas’ei reminds me that every journey takes place in stages and each stage carries its own distinct blessing to be unwrapped and savored, its own messages to be gleaned and digested.”
The 100th anniversary of Women of Reform Judaism gave us the opportunity to review the stages and blessings of our journey as Reform Jewish women. We learned about our fore mothers who struggled to find their own unique identities within our movement and the leadership they provided to the women’s movement in North America. In this look back, we gained insight into where we want to go in the future. We have made changes to our North American meeting schedule and looked at ways to engage women who are not affiliated with a local Sisterhood– to name just two of the new pathways we have developed.
I had a unique opportunity to look at my own personal journey. Just a few weeks ago I had the privilege to attend the training for facilitators of the Wise Aging Program. As a part of that training we drew a river to symbolize our life and we divided the river into 7 year stages. Into each stage we detailed the events of our lives that occurred during that time. I realized that there were very few really tough times in my life and that I had been given many wonderful adventures and opportunities. I also gained insight into how I wanted my river to flow into the future.
This is the time of year when our Sisterhoods are installing the leadership for the next year. What a wonderful opportunity to look back at all that our sisters have achieved and to plan for the future. Shifra Gold reminds us that “It is important to remember that at each stage of our journey we will encounter some obstacle or resistance. However annoying, difficult or devastating that obstacle is, its presence can call forth a particular power that lies hidden within us… In fact, the potentials that lie buried within us often require an appropriate challenge in order to be released and manifested.”
We have a wonderful opportunity to define the future of our journey as Women of Reform Judaism.
Lesley Levin lives in Bloomington, Indiana with her husband Mark. She is a licensed Clinical Social Worker, a Para Rabbinic Fellow, and a member of the WRJ board of directors and the Commission on Social Action.