A guide to packing

I've been doing a lot of traveling lately. Stephen Sondheim's Desiree from A Little Night Music (and a serious bucket-list role) captures what I've felt like. The trips have mostly been for work, visiting rabbinic conferences on behalf of my day job, with a family simcha thrown in. By the time you read this, I'll be packing for another trip, too.

I love to travel. I'm not like the road warriors who are traveling all the time, so it's still fun for me. I love airports; either I'm going somewhere, or someone dear to me is coming home. I love staying in hotels-places where someone else makes the beds!-and I love alone time, something that's in short supply when you have a family.

Some people try to make the hotels feel more like home, like bringing family pictures. You like to have something that reminds you of who you are while on your journeys. Things ground you; they fuel you so you can keep doing what you need to do.

When the Israelites were in the middle of their epic journey, they too needed things to ground them, to remind them of who they were and what they needed to keep going. God and Moses knew that God was that source of being grounded, but the people had to be convinced. They tried the wrong thing at first.

In Ki Tisa, the people got frustrated and impatient that their leader Moses was taking a long time to get back from his, well, "errand" up the mountain.

"When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, the people gathered against Aaron and said to him, 'Come make a god who shall go before us, for that fellow Moses-the leader who brought us from the land of Egypt-we do not know what has happened to him."  (Ex 32:1)  And so begins the story of the Golden Calf.  They thought it was what they needed to keep with them on their journey. But it was a false and ineffective reminder of the relationship they had with God. It wasn't going to be enough to keep them centered and strong.

What Moses presented them with was a much better traveling companion. The Tent of Meeting. It would be the best traveling companion. It was tangible, like the Golden Calf, but it would have the intangible essence that would energize the people wherever they went. It could be taken down and put up again, over and over, no matter where they traveled. It would be made with loving hands, with precious contributions from the entire community. It would be a true symbol of the promise, not one made from panic and disappointment.

We may bring tangible reminders of home when we travel, but it isn't really the things themselves that warms our hearts when we unpack them. It's their source-what they represent, who they remind us of, and how important they are on our travels.  It was the same for the Israelites. This was a remarkable community that formed in the middle of wilderness, in an unnamed spot, a multitude in the middle of a journey. At first, they did pick the wrong thing to remind them of who they were, and where they were headed.  But they got the hang of it. Safe travels, everyone.



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