In this week’s Torah portion, Mattot-Mas’ei, the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half of the tribe of Manasseh request the lands east of the Jordan as their portion of the promised land, on account of its great pastures for their cattle. Moses is initially angered by this request, but inevitably agrees on the condition that these tribes join and lead Israel’s conquest of the lands west of the Jordan. The parashah goes on to chronicle the 42 journeys and encampments of Israel. When I first read this parashah, I was confused as to why all 42 examples are stated. They encompass a large chunk of the parashah so I knew it must have some significance, since everything in the Torah is there for a reason. One commentary by the Lubavitcher Rebbe stuck out to me. He wrote that the Israelites viewed these 42 stops as just that: an interruption, or even a setback, in their progress toward the promised land. But once they arrived at their destination, they were able to reflect upon each of these experiences in a different light. No longer were they venturing from slavery to an unknown goal that was promised to them. Instead, having attained their goal, they could understand just how formative each of these stops were in their overall journey, as well as their identities as people.
This commentary spoke to me, having recently graduated high school and having reached the end of my journey through the B’nai Jeshurun teen program. As I attended Hebrew School classes as a second grader, I never stopped to recognize their importance aside from teaching me about Judaism. When I joined the Purim Spiels, I just thought I was having fun with my friends. As I participated in and helped lead Hitoreri (our monthly teen Kabbalat Shabbat services), I was simply giving d’vars about whatever spoke to me, right? Boy was I wrong.
Like the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh, I have now completed an incredible journey. One where the path was not always paved, where I encountered difficult decisions and did not know where I would end up. Now, just as the tribes of Israel did, I have been reflecting upon each of these experiences in a new light. I see that each Hebrew School class captivated my interest and instilled in me a love of Judaism. I understand that the Purim Spiels gave me an outlet to express my love of my religion in a creative way. I know that each d’var I gave at Hitoreri not only allowed me to bond with my peers, but helped me find my voice. Each trip, tzedek project, and day of service allowed me to develop my beliefs as a Jewish young adult and as a human overall, helping me find my place in this world. My Rosh Hodesh group, led by the amazing Ayala Wasser, gave me my BJ family and helped me understand what it means to be a Jewish young adult, and how to let my voice be heard.
The teen program helped me develop lasting friendships with my fellow teens, not just those in my grade, which will last me long past the teen program did. Serving on the Teen Executive Board for three years left me with the skills to help others in the community and ensure the teen program is a safe space for all of my peers, a place where we can all learn and grow.
There are hundreds more of these instances in which something felt unremarkable at the time, but I now realize that each and every one of these events has been pivotal in my development into the strong, independent young woman I am today. My experience at BJ has led me to choose my next adventure—Kivunim and then the Community-Based Research Scholars program at American University. I chose these programs because of the experiences I had at BJ, both with Judaism and service, and how they go hand in hand. Though I may not know where my next adventure will take me, and it may be difficult at times, I know just like the Israelites did that every stop or setback along the journey will leave a lasting mark on my experience and who I am as a person.