From the time our first ancestors, Abraham and Sarah, left Haran, in Lower Mesopotamia to go to Canaan, about 4000 years ago, our people has spent more time journeying, than settled in one place. Significantly, the Hebrew word for the Jewish law, originally, didn’t actually mean ‘law’ at all: halachah, a noun based on the ‘root’ Hei – Lameid – Chaf, means, to ‘go’ or to ‘walk’. You could say, that we Liberal Jews, who do not ‘keep’ strictly to the halachah, nevertheless, continue to walk along the Jewish way…
Words, of course, tell us so much. In the English language, a ‘journey’ is taken by foot, or by some other means of transport on land, but a ‘voyage’ is taken by sea or air. When we speak of ‘traveling’, we are usually referring to a journey of some length; in the 19th century, for example, there were many intrepid travelers, who traversed continents in their thirst to discover other peoples and cultures.
The Hebrew language is also very revealing: From the time that Jacob ‘went out’ and fled his home in fear of his brother Esau, ‘the children of Israel’, the descendants of Jacob, have been forever ‘going out’; the Hebrew root, Yud – TZadi – Aleph, denoting a dramatic ‘exit’ – exodus and exile. Of course, the actual Exodus from Egypt is a central motif of Jewish life: and so, the Torah relates the famous tale in the Book of Exodus, which is recalled each day, in the blessing of liberation, recited after the Sh’ma; remembered each Shabbat – ‘the blessing of the day’ recited on Erev Shabbat, calls Shabbat, zeicher yitzi’at Mitzrayim, ‘a memorial of the exodus from Egypt’ – and commemorated each year during the Festival of Pesach.
And there is another Hebrew expression, used in the Torah of the forty year journey through the wilderness, which is also very revealing. Here, the Torah speaks of ‘setting out’, using the Hebrew root, Nun – Sameich – Ayin, which implies pulling up, pulling out, breaking up camp, and continuing the journey. And so, the last portion of the book of Numbers, which focuses on the journey in the wilderness (the book is known in Hebrew as B’midbar, because the first significant phrase is b’midbar Sinai, ‘in the wilderness of Sinai’), begins: ‘These are the stages of the children of Israel’ – Eilleh mass’ey v’ney Yisrael. The years of trekking through the wilderness from Egypt to Canaan, may have ended over 3000 years ago, nevertheless, at a more profound level, whether we journey or voyage or travel, whether we go out or set out ,whether we walk or run, or stay at home, each one of us, is essentially, on an ongoing journey, the journey of our lives, moving from stage to stage; each stage involving a break with what went before, and a new departure, until we finally depart this world. May we always have the provisions we need for all our journeys. Rabbi Elizabeth Tikvah Sarah