Why do we sing when we travel?

While reading this week’s parsha the baal korei will burst into a delightful song. He will not be reading about the splitting of the sea or be announcing the Ten Commandments. Rather, he will be reciting the travelogue of the Jewish people in the Sinai desert!

Moving house and home is one of the greater stresses of life and during our national wandering in the desert we moved forty two times!

During the day there would be a huge cloud over the camp. In the night since you can’t see a cloud there would be a light that appeared like a fire within the cloud. When they traveled the Jews would follow this cloud, stopping where it stopped and going where it went.

Sometimes, they were moving along and they seemed to find a terrific place to camp but the cloud didn’t stop so they didn’t. Sometimes, the cloud stopped at places that were not so nice, with bitter waters and so on, but G-d wanted them there, so there they stayed. Sometimes, there seemed to be a great place to stay just up the road but the cloud stopped and so they stayed there.

They had no way of knowing how long they were to stay. Sometimes the cloud would only stay a day and sometimes a year. They didn’t know if they should unpack; maybe by the time they unpacked the cloud would decide to move again. They could never tell if they were just parking, staying overnight, or in for a long haul.

So why do we sing?

Because it was during these forty years of uncertainty that our ancestors developed their trust in G-d. They learned to believe that wherever God sent them is where they are supposed to be. With this they acquired an invaluable tool and it became an inheritance that would become the secret of Jewish survival.

They also learned not to become overly attached to the place and space that they happened to be. Although staying put is the path of least resistance, they learned that an entire new world may be just around the corner. A man should ever be ready to take his journey.

And finally they learned that sometimes the real thing is not reaching the goal, the real thing is the journey, the very traveling and the beauty of the movement.

As we travel the complicated and uncertain road to Jerusalem and even as we approach the Nine Days of national mourning the Baal Korei will sing.

May we reach our destination with joy!

By Rabbi Yaacov Haber

Rabbi Yaacov Haber has been a leading force in Jewish community and Jewish education for over forty years. He lived and taught in the United States, Australia and in Israel. He is presently the Rav of Kehillas Shivtei Yeshurun, a vibrant community in the center of Ramat Bet Shemesh, Israel, and serves as the Rabbinic guide to many of its wonderful organisations.


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