Parsha Massay by David Hartley Mark

This parsha/Torah Reading is a “laundry list” parsha, containing the names of all the places where the Israelites camped during their forty-year wilderness sojourn. Scholars are uncertain about the exact location of these places; there are, today, at least three separate, possible routes which the Israelites might have followed on their path to the Promised Land, along with possibly a dozen(!) claimants to the title of “The Real Mt. Sinai.”
That’s the particular challenge of being a wandering nation of shepherds: we never remained in one place long enough to leave traces of our civilization, such as broken pottery or rough stone altars, the usual evidence of a Scripture-era settlement. That’s also why we cannot prove the existence of any Biblical leaders prior to, and including, Solomon; some scholars believe that even the mighty King David might have been a mere tribal warrior-chieftain, more Robin Hood than enthroned monarch.

Like our biblical forebears, many of us have traveled during our lives, wandering far from the neighborhoods of our youth to our Florida paradise. Thinking back on our early years, did we ever imagine that we would eventually settle in the Sunshine State? It’s a cliché, but nonetheless true, that “Life is what happens to you, when you’re planning for something else.”

In Judaism, possessions are considered less important than using them to serve God, but, of course, there is nothing wrong with owning nice and attractive things. There is the story of a rabbi who was invited to a housewarming at the posh mansion of a congregant in Newton, MA, one of the ritziest Jewish neighborhoods in the nation. The host and hostess were very proud to show their spiritual leader around their home, for whose furnishings they had hired one of the most prominent interior decorators in the country. The tour included showing him their enormous dining room, with its Chippendale table and service for fifty; the Radio-City-sized home theatre room; the bedroom, with space for a sizeable pajama party; and the rest of the ample furnishings; no expense had been spared. When the tour was over, it was time for the wife’s mother to show the rabbi her own, attached apartment: she was very grateful to her daughter and son-in-law for allowing her to live with them.

The elderly lady took the rabbi by the hand, went down a long foyer, turned on the light in her kitchen, and pointed to the windowsill. The rabbi did not see any Limoges china or Lladro statues; instead, arrayed on the sill, was a line of pushkas—charity boxes, for Hebrew schools, synagogues, battered women’s shelters, programs for the handicapped, and other worthy charities, both Jewish and gentile.

“Now, Rabbi,” smiled the grandmother, “This is interior decorating!”

David Hartley Mark is from New York City’s Lower East Side. He attended Yeshiva University, the City University of NY Graduate Center for English Literature, and received semicha at the Academy for Jewish Religion. He currently teaches English at Everglades University in Boca Raton, FL, and has a Shabbat pulpit at Temple Sholom of Pompano Beach. His literary tastes run to Isaac Bashevis Singer, Stephen King, King David, Kohelet, Christopher Marlowe, and the Harlem Renaissance

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