By Rabbi Naftoly Bier
The Alter of Kelm addressed an issue that many have pondered. Why is it that residents of one country or one hemisphere are constantly travelling to another country or another hemisphere? After all there is much to investigate and enjoy in one’s own country, not to mention the patriotic feelings that will be engendered by “staying put”.
The Alter explained that all of life is a journey to search for G-d, to understand who created us, who we are, and what our unique mission is and to actualize it. This search for the unknown is a quest to define oneself, to define one’s essence – that being our נשמה, our soul. A name doesn’t define one’s essence, neither does one’s occupation or one’s size and looks; what defines one is one’s inner character, that in turn being the essence of one’s development of the נשמה, soul. We search for G-d, for our נשמה is part and parcel of the Almighty; He having blown from Himself into Adam אדם הראשון, part of Himself; which we define as the נשמה. Life is a continuous journey of refining our נשמה, our distinct character and personality in consonance with actions that emulate the Almighty’s. The Alter explained that this inherent, incessant drive compels us to travel the world seeking actualization of one’s definition by observing the cultures of others, due to our lack of understanding that we are truly seeking G-d. What is this journey of life? Are we to metaphorically travel on an express train that starts at birth and reaches its destination at the life’s end whereupon we meet our Creator or are we to make countless stops; at each and every destination reacting to the place, encounter, or people we meet. So often for many of us life seems to be a blur – a never ending train ride that just “flies” by the countryside. We see panoply of colors, thousands of different trees and plants, meet countless people and experience a myriad of events, but at the end it is all a “blur”. Why does this happen?
The Torah in פ’ מסעי, Numbers, chapter 33, recounts the travels of the Jewish people in the desert. All in all there were forty two places where they encamped. The Torah emphasizes “they traveled from “A”, they encamped at “B”, they traveled from “B” and encamped at “C” … why doesn’t it just say they went from A to B to C, isn’t it superfluous to say they went from A to B, from B to C?
The Torah is teaching us one of the most important lessons of successful living. Life is a series of countless journeys, each and every journey requires contemplation, enthusiasm to succeed, and discipline and responsibility to complete the task at hand.
Mark Twain said “When you live in Boston they ask you which university did you attend?”, in New York “How much money do you have?” and in Philadelphia, “What is your bloodline?” This is not by accident or coincidence. The Torah teaches us that each place possesses a dynamic that is endemic to that location, the dynamic being part of the world’s creation. Each place the Jewish people encamped in the dessert they had a spiritual and a counter-spiritual force unique to that location, challenging the Jewish people to sensitize and elevate themselves to a higher level of spiritual self development. By teaching us this idea the Torah is revealing the journey of success. Every situation we encounter, be it a place, a person, a business opportunity or a time related experience, it is imperative that we responsibly appreciate in what manner we can develop. If we judiciously actualize the opportunity, we not only develop ourselves, but the pride of self-actualization is the impetus to strive for even greater goals, an aspiration born from the self-confidence of true and successful accomplishment.
Simultaneously, we must examine our “success” and self-introspect, asking “Did we accomplish as much as we could have?”, thereby dedicating ourselves to focus with more intent and dedication to the next task and challenge at hand. Life’s journey is analogous to climbing a ladder, every rung must be stepped upon to reach the final elevated destination; every rung must be constructed correctly. Though the climb to the top seems daunting and at times impossible, the success gained by the continuous upward flight emboldens one with the courage, determination and enthusiasm to continue.
As we embark on any life journey it is imperative to focus on what we want to accomplish, what we have to accomplish and in turn at its completion, to embark refreshed with new vigor to once again set out on a new adventure. The Jewish calendar is a journey through time each allotted time on the calendar represents a unique challenge and opportunity. Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, and Sukkos are times when we are presented by Hashem with an.extraordinary opportunity to clearly define the journey of life we wish to embark upon. We are judged on Rosh Hashanah for the future; G-d looks into our hearts and minds and perceives what our true intentions are, if they are noble and selfless in their desire to achieve spiritual human greatness; He not only judges us favorably but becomes a facilitator in its actualization. The journey which starts with new clarity of thought and determination of will is enhanced by this gift from the Almighty. The shofar awakens us to the reality of life: G-d is in control and our journey takes place with His providential love and care. It is incumbent upon us to unequivocally choose with integrity, nobility and steadfastness, the path of human greatness, developed through the teachings of the Torah. On Sukkos, we through its mitzvos, integrate these ideas as part and parcel of our journey.