Shabbat Parshat Reeh 5777
Teshuva and Seeking Out God, No Signposts for Olei Regel
Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5775
I promise that it is more frightening for me than for you that today is Rosh Chodesh Elul which means that Rosh Hashanah is only a month away.
It also means that the season of repentance has begun, or should begin.
There is a beautiful and meaningful teshuva idea that emerges from a difference between two travelers, one recorded in this morning’s parsha and one in next weeks.
Next week we will read of the accidental murderer who must flee to the city of refuge.
There we read –
דברים פרק יט
ג) תָּכִ֣ין לְךָ֘ הַדֶּרֶךְ֒ וְשִׁלַּשְׁתָּ֙ אֶת־גְּב֣וּל אַרְצְךָ֔ אֲשֶׁ֥ר יַנְחִֽילְךָ֖ יְקֹוָ֣ק אֱלֹהֶ֑יךָ וְהָיָ֕ה לָנ֥וּס שָׁ֖מָּה כָּל־רֹצֵֽחַ
3. You shall prepare a way, and divide the border of your land, which the Lord your God gives you to inherit, into three parts, that every slayer may flee there.
What does it mean “You shall prepare the way”? Rashi writes that מקלט מקלט היה כתוב על פרשתי דרכים – at each crossroads there was a sign that read- refuge, refuge. If you have been to Israel you know those signs that are in Hebrew English and Arabic- those would say – city of refuge that way! One would imagine that back in the day the road infrastructure was probably less built and without the signs you would have been totally lost.
This morning we read of another traveler – the oleh regel, the Jew ascending to Jerusalem for the pilgrimage festival.
דברים פרק יב
ה) כִּ֠י אִֽם־אֶל־הַמָּק֞וֹם אֲשֶׁר־יִבְחַ֨ר יְקֹוָ֤ק אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶם֙ מִכָּל־שִׁבְטֵיכֶ֔ם לָשׂ֥וּם אֶת־שְׁמ֖וֹ שָׁ֑ם לְשִׁכְנ֥וֹ תִדְרְשׁ֖וּ וּבָ֥אתָ שָֽׁמָּה
5. But to the place which the Lord your God shall choose out of all your tribes to put his name there, to his habitation shall you seek, and there you shall come;
Here there is no command to prepare a way – rather you find the way! Why should that be? Isn’t it important that we get to the temple for the festivals? Why don’t we have signposts saying – temple that way?!
I am not sure how good this question actually is but I saw it asked in a couple of places and really like the answer.
The first answer focuses on a potential side benefit of not having sign posts. Before GPS, Google maps, Waze or even printed maps, you got directions by asking people. In other words, not having sign posts forces the travelers to knock on doors and interact with their fellow Jews.
Rabbi Lamm correctly points out that you might not your kids opening the door for an accidental murderer and thus they have directions. You might want to interact with a Jew ascending to Jerusalem for the festivals.
What is the value in that interaction?
The Ramban, on the verse in our parsha, suggests that the purpose of the meeting is to encourage more people to join the journey.
I will come back to that in a moment.
There is another answer as well. On any journey taken, you can ask – what is the purpose of the journey? Is it reaching the destination or is does the journey itself have value and maybe more value than reaching a particular destination.
I would suggest that the journey of the accidental murderer is all about the destination. That city is where he or she is safe. It does not matter if you travel 5 days to get there or 5 minutes. All you want to do is get there and be safe from the family of the murdered. Thus there are sign posts to get you there as quickly as possible. לָנ֥וּס שָׁ֖מָּה כָּל־רֹצֵֽחַ
The journey to Jerusalem is in one respect the same; you want to get to the temple for the festival. Yet, the journey to Jerusalem is also a journey to God and God’s house. On that journey, the goal is not simply to get there. When approaching God, the journey is almost more important than the destination. To get to God, you can’t simply get there, you have to travel and ask and maybe take a wrong turn or two. לְשִׁכְנ֥וֹ תִדְרְשׁ֖וּ וּבָ֥אתָ שָֽׁמָּה to his habitation shall you seek, and there you shall come.
If you want to find God, you have to seek him out. You have to take a journey.
That journey begins today as we begin our trek towards Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Take the time to appreciate it, take advantage of the opportunity. And the Rambam is correct. It is easier if we encourage each other and work at it together.
Hopefully together we can come closer to God!