“Poised for Action:” Mattot-Mas’ei

This week is a double portion that concludes the book of Numbers, the fourth book of the Torah that covers thirty-eight years of travel through the desert. The people are now poised to enter the Promised Land.

Mattot means tribes. Each of the twelve tribe had a distinctive identity as part of a larger collective. Mas’ei means journey. What is the link between these two titles?

In our own journeys through life, we choose narrower and broader identities. To belong to a larger collective offers a shared history, values, and hopes that guide our future. An extended family allows us to feel nurtured. And we are as shaped by where we see ourselves going as by where we have come from.

In the Torah itself the Israelites never enter the Promised Land. At the conclusion of Deuteronomy with instructions given on how to move from dependency to independence, we begin the rereading of the Torah. Our sacred text provides a path toward a freedom that entails responsibility. We repeatedly reach that threshold of action in our own lives and are prompted to take the next step informed and supported by a larger, communal journey.