Greater Washington Coalition for Jewish Life

Rabbi’s Monthly Message

February, 2023

Dear Coalition Community,

Whenever someone goes on vacation, I often think about how interesting that journey
must be. We get to experience new things. Try new foods. See new places. Even when we
return to places we have already journeyed to, there can be newness and adventure. I just
came back from the White Mountains, one of my favorite places in the world, where I was
leading a workshop for the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Educators Outdoors program. It is
a program that works with educators and youth workers to train them to take their youth
into the backcountry. This program focused particularly on snowshoeing and cross-country
skiing – my favorite winter sports. When one of the participants commented that they
didn’t really like winter, I explained that if a person finds no joy in the snow, they will still
have the same amount of snow and just less joy!

It is a long drive to get to the White Mountains – about 5 hours from my house this time of
year given the snow. And I really do like driving, so I don’t really mind. It is an opportunity to
reflect, enjoy the views, and sometimes catch up on a good podcast or this weekend to
listen to the AFC championship game on the way home. But I wasn’t always a fan of this
type of journey. Car trips as a little kid meant that someone in the back seat was sooner or
later going to throw up. Eventually as a teenager it meant that sooner or later someone in
the front seat would threaten to stop the car and throw those in the back seat out. But I
love the journey of a good car ride.

This month, Jews begin the retelling of our quintessential story of journeying: the entrance
of the Israelites into the silence and peace of the Sinai desert, there to find some powerful
truths at the foot of a mountain. In Yitro, the Torah’s description of the revelation, the
giving of the Ten Commandments, is replete with drama and sensational special effects:
thunder, lightning, blazing fires and the sound of a great horn.

We learn life lessons in the journey. This can be true whether we are hiking in the forest or
driving along the road. In the Torah, the lessons offered to us are the very highest truths
we stretch to reach and to live by. Words whose core teaching blaze out as incandescent
as fire: life is not all about you. Be present to the other. Be responsive and responsible for
the other. The lessons of our road trip are no less important. This weekend we learned to
track rabbits in the snow, how to get up after a fall, and how to laugh with your whole body.
And so, whether we are rereading our ancestors’ story of journeying or exploring our own
world, we are journeying into the world that is altogether new and full of moments of
revelation like our ancestors at Sinai. We also know that this journeying is best when we
journey with people we care about – partners, family, friends. We cherish our memories,
we pray for their happiness, we rejoice in our times together and try to make them
wonderful and memorable.

And so this month, during which we are reading the story of our ancestors making the
archetypal journey, we think of the journeys that each of us are taking on at this time.
Perhaps they are small or for some they may be great. They may involve transitions in
family, work, financial situation. They may involve changes in health or stability. Or they
may be honest to goodness journeys as some prepare to travel to unique destinations and
some prepare to return home after a long time away. Whatever the journey may be, we
should listen to the voice of our tradition as it reminds us that when we travel, it is
important to travel with those close to us, and with an eye toward the things that make
journeys matter.

Kol Tuv,