Language lessons
So long; farewell

This week's portion: travelogue


These are the words that Moses addressed to all Israel on the other side of the Jordan. (Deut. 1:1)

We've been on the road a long time.
Feels like forty years.
In fact, are you the same travelers
who set out with me? Sometimes
I imagine you're their children.
Maybe you've just grown up
along the harsh and winding way.
Remember the day we set out,
a mixed multitude straggling
through the brackish waters?
Remember the day I realized
I couldn't lead this trip alone?
Remember the day we sent runners
to scout where we were going
but you were afraid of the prospect
of entering somewhere new, maybe
being changed by the experience?
The wandering, the fighting,
the wadis we crossed: the story
will take hours to retell. For now
close your eyes, take a breath
and remember where we've been.
What moved you, what surprised you.
After a journey like this one
no one is exactly the same
as on the day of departure
from that other home so far away.

In this week's Torah portion, Dvarim, Moshe begins to speak about the journey they've been taking. He'll spend a long while recapping where they've been, and what happened along the way. The whole book of Dvarim (Deuteronomy) can be read as a recap of the journeys of the Israelites. The book will end with Moshe's final blessing to the people, before he dies at the very cusp of the culmination of their journey.

There's a symmetry, for me, to reading about Moshe's recap of the Israelites' journey as I approach the end of mine. (Not in the macro sense of my life's journey, obviously; I mean, my journey to Jerusalem, since my seven weeks here are almost at an end.) I can relate to the impulse to pause before crossing a major spiritual and physical border. The desire to stop and say, "Before we move on, let's make sure we remember where we've been."

So that's where this week's Torah poem went. Like the Israelites, this week I'm remembering what it felt like to set off from home, to take the leap of entering into something new. Of course, the Israelites' journey was linear -- from one place to another. Mine is a circle, and for that I'm grateful, too: that at the end of this adventure, I get to go home.

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