The Meaning of Selma

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A story: A Minneapolis couple decided to go to Florida to thaw out during a particularly icy winter. They planned to stay at the same hotel where they spent their honeymoon 20 years earlier. Because of hectic schedules, it was difficult to coordinate their travel schedules. So, the husband left Minnesota and flew to Florida on Thursday, with his wife flying down the following day.

The husband checked into the hotel. There was a computer in his room, so he decided to send an email to his wife. However, he accidentally left out one letter in her email address, and without realizing his error, sent the e-mail.

Meanwhile, somewhere in Houston, a widow had just returned home from her husband’s funeral. He was a minister who was called home to glory following a heart attack.

The widow decided to check her e-mail expecting messages from relatives and friends. After reading the first message, she screamed and fainted. The widow’s son rushed into the room, found his mother on the floor, and saw the computer screen which read:

To: My Loving Wife

Subject: I’ve Arrived

Date: January 19, 2010

I know you’re surprised to hear from me. They have computers here now, and you are allowed to send e-mails to your loved ones. I’ve just arrived and have been checked in. I’ve seen that everything has been prepared for your arrival tomorrow.

Looking forward to seeing you then!

Hope your journey is as uneventful as mine was.

P. S. Sure is freaking hot down here!!!!

 

Journeys!  You see the promise at the beginning of the Torah this week is that God will take us on a journey. Beginning with Exodus, chapter 6, verse 6, “I will take you out from (vehotzeiti) the labors of the Egyptians, and I will save you (vehitzalti) from their bondage. I will redeem you (vegaalti) with an outstretched arm and through extraordinary chastisements. I will take you (velakachti) to be my people, and I will be your God, and you will know that I the Lord am your God who freed you from the labors of the Egyptians. I will bring you (vehevayti) to the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and I will give it to you for possession. I am the Lord”.

Now you will notice that there were five different verbs that I read in the Hebrew. Four had to do with going out from and one had to do with arriving at. To put it another way, four were about the journey, and one was about the destination. Significantly, when it comes to the Seder and the ritualization of this text, we eliminate the fifth and drink 4 cups of wine for the four verbs of being taken out of Egypt.

There is a fifth cup of wine, but we are uncertain about drinking it, and so we leave it undrunk, and it is the cup of Elijah. To put it another way we have 4 cups for the journey and we have uncertainty for the destination.

If we look at the bigger picture, that is to say the entire Torah, we see the same pattern.

The whole Torah is the setup for the Exodus then the actual story of the Exodus, and the remainder of the book is about the 40 years of wandering, of journeying. But never in the Torah do we arrive. The destination is ahead of us, but not Moses, who will die before they get to cross the Jordan, or the people of Israel who will capture Israel actually begin the process in the five books of Moses. It’s only in the book of Joshua that the arrival at the destination takes place.

Rabbi Paul Plotnik has wisely observed: “Is this all a coincidence? Is it just by chance that both the Torah which tells us of the Exodus, and the Seder which relives it annually, could both focus on the journey and leave the destination for another time?

“I doubt it. It is another message. A message that we need to guide us through the entire travels of our life. We need to be reminded over, and over again, that in life the journey is at least as important, if not even more important, than the destination.” This is true for actual journeys and for theological ones as well.
Rabbi Shai Held tells of such a theological journey. “Many years ago, when I was a teenager studying in an Israeli yeshiva, I found myself preoccupied by a series of what felt to me like pressing theological questions, mostly about biblical criticism and its implications for faith.

“I asked several of my teachers for help, but they were uniformly unhelpful: some confessed ignorance of the issues at hand, while others warned me that my questions posed a danger to the religious welfare of other students.

“Quite by accident, I stumbled upon a book by the late Rabbi Louis Jacobs, in which he wrestled with precisely some of the questions I found most vexing. As only an angst-ridden adolescent could, I proceeded to write him a fifteen-page, handwritten letter about my religious concerns, anxieties, and fears. He was kind enough to respond right away.

What stayed with me was how he concluded his very kind note. ‘Remember always,’ he said, ‘that the search for Torah is itself Torah, and that in the very search you have already found.’

“Those words have sustained me through periods of great doubt, and enabled me to be nourished by the joy of spiritual, and intellectual, quest.”

 

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It’s not necessarily the destination – it’s the journey that counts.
On this weekend one person’s journey matters most of all:
the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I saw the movie Selma last week. What was so important about the march? It was all about keeping the process going and leading to further progress. It wasn’t about one moment. It was about one movement.

The day before he died, Dr. King spoke prophetically about the fact that the journey matters most of all.

His words:

“Like anybody, I would like to live – a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

We will get to the Promised Land. But we are never actually there. We are moving in the direction. That is what we must remember.

Dr. King: The arc of history moves slowly, but it bends toward justice.

Let’s remember it is not the destination that counts but the journey, the direction, and the faith that we are indeed heading in the right direction.