Some weeks, the most powerful, extraordinary, oft-read and oft-quoted book in all of human history is…boring. This is one of them. A good deal of the Torah portion this week is nothing more than a list of places our ancestors stopped on their way from Egypt to the Promised Land. Fifty verses go something like this: “The Israelites set out from Rameses and encamped at Succoth. They set out from Succoth and encamped at Etham….They set out from Etham and turned about toward Pi-hahiroth….They set out from Pi-hahiroth and passed through the sea into the wilderness…and encamped at Marah. They set out from Marah and came to Elim. They set out from Elim and encamped by the Sea of Reeds.” You get the idea…
It would be nice if there were a few miracles, wars, concubines, chastisements, and some biblical family drama mixed in for good measure, but no such luck. All we get this week is an uneventful list--day, by day, by day, by day, by day... Feels a lot like life during the pandemic, doesn’t it? Our lives have narrowed to the point that we often don’t know what day of the week it is. The news never seems to change. Things are better, then they’re worse, better then worse, better then worse. Most of what we do today is the same as yesterday and tomorrow—coffee, Zooms, leftovers for lunch, Zooms, coffee, walk, dinner, scotch, Netflix, bed. We see the same people, we eat the same foods, we spend time in the same room, on the same couch, under the same blanket in the same pajamas—it feels as if life itself has paused. Sometimes the limitations and monotony depress me. I am occasionally short-tempered and pessimistic. Mostly, I am just so damn tired of it all.
Our ancestors had a better way of thinking about their uncertain journey of uncertain length than I do about mine. They didn’t spend their lives like whining children asking “are we there yet?” Instead, they considered each day of the journey worthy of inclusion in the most inspiring book of all time. A day to be appreciated and remembered, not for its miracles and drama, but for its simple, steady, reliable rhythm—which was its own sort of pure and powerful beauty.
Long ago, my wife Betsy embraced this wise way of thinking about a journey. For the last eight years, every night before she gets under the covers, she has written down each day’s goings on in a little diary she keeps on her nightstand. So I asked her just now what she was doing two years ago today.
“Let’s see,” she answers, flipping to the page. “I swam at the Rose Bowl pool, had lunch at Nori Wrap, and then worked on my painting of Central Park. I walked 22,000 steps and we had lasagna for dinner.” That day two years ago is lost to me. I have no memory of it—nothing. Betsy, on the other hand, has it tucked away to appreciate for its simple, ordinary pleasures.
How wise she is; knowing all along what the Torah comes to teach us today. Life is not boring—we are, when we fail to see each step of our journey, even now--especially now--as worthy and beautiful in its own precious way.
Love and Shabbat shalom,