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Unexpected Turns Make for Great Stories

Imagine the Israelites’ journey through the wilderness. They moved from camp to camp and from location to location throughout their wanderings in the Sinai desert. They were led on this forty-year journey by God. When the cloud remained over the tabernacle they stayed in camp. When the cloud moved, they broke camp.

The Torah reports: “Whether it was two days or a month or a year—however long the cloud lingered over the tabernacle—the Israelites remained encamped and did not set out; only when it lifted did they break camp.” (Numbers 9)

And I am lingering on those opening words: “whether it was two days or a month or year.” How unsettled is the Israelites’ lot. They did not know which way they were headed or how long they would stay once they got there. Rabbi Obadiah ben Jacob Sforno who lived in late fifteenth century Italy comments:
This is now already the fifth time the Torah belabors the subject of these journeys, something totally unprecedented. It alerts us to how sometimes the people did not even have time to send their beasts to graze, whereas on other occasions they had to dismantle everything at very short notice, any plans they had made having to be abandoned.
It is no wonder that they complained. It is no wonder that they grumbled against Moses. “The people took to complaining bitterly.” (Numbers 11) Just when they started getting comfortable in one place they had to pack up and move to another.

Sforno again comments: “It was impossible to predict with any degree of probability how long they would stay in one location.”

Perhaps the entire journey was a test. Perhaps all of their wanderings were meant to teach the Torah’s most important truth. There is only one thing on which the people can know for certain and on which they can rely. And that is God.

The journey was entirely in God’s hands.

Do we have the faith to determine the same? Do we have the faith to exclaim, “Our wanderings are entirely at God’s direction?”

Is it possible to see life’s journeys, its unexpected turns, and most especially those unforeseen hurdles that are entirely outside of our control, as adventures or better yet as demonstrations that we are not leading but being led?

Even Moses did not know how long they would stay in one location. If he did not know, then how can we expect to know what lies ahead?

Sure, we can complain like the Israelites. But we can also have faith like the Israelites.

We may think we are Moses and leading our lives. Instead, we are just like the Israelites being led in a circuitous path that provides miracles and adventures, grumblings and mishaps. All that we can know for sure is that it makes for great stories.

And one beautiful Torah.

Have faith!

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