In one of my favorite summer songs, James Taylor sings:
“Summer’s here/ I’m for that/ Got my rubber sandals/ Got my straw hat/ Got my cold beer/ I’m just glad that I’m here”.
Summer is now officially here, and with it arrives a universal condition that may have its roots in last week’s Torah portion, Chukat. As the Book of Numbers reveals between chapter 19 and chapter 20, there is a bit of that summer-time slumber when not much really goes on. With not even a single verse dedicated to an explanation, chapter 19 tells of events during the second year of the wandering in the desert, while chapter 20 opens with the last year of the wandering. What happened to the intervening 38 years?!
Biblical scholars speak of the importance of an older generation which endured the slavery of Egypt (but yearned for its security) dying off to make way for a younger generation which could eagerly anticipate the challenges and opportunities of freedom. Such a process took little more than time. Little in the way of religious significance could speed that process along.
I like to think of the 38 years a bit differently. I can imagine that like the song, they all took their sandals, their hats, some beer (invented in Egypt, by the way) and went to the beach somewhere along the Mediterranean. It probably didn’t measure up to what we’d call a vacation, but it was undoubtedly a period of little productivity, lots of resting, and a storing up of the energy needed for the next phase of Israel’s journey into the Promised Land. Even Miriam, Moses and Aaron needed a rest every now and then — though 38 years is a mighty long sabbatical!
With the universal need for rest and renewal in mind, I hope all of you are enjoying your summer. Indeed, lots of preparation is underway for the fall at Or Chadash as we gear up for our 25th anniversary. But to make sure your rabbi is rested, I will be away next week in Morocco (not all that far from the ancient Israelites’ journey) – with sandals, hat and a cold beverage, glad to be enjoying a little time off and the opportunity to discover a new place. I hope you have a safe and happy 4th of July.
Rabbi Joseph M. Forman