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Strong Foundations

Thursday, 20 June, 2019 - 7:50 pm

Sports games are judged by the final score. Pundits talk about what a president will do in his or her first 100 days. But, history will judge them on the entirety of their performance.

Is there value in focusing on the beginning, or is keeping our eyes on the long game the best option?

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The Jewish people wandered for forty years in the wilderness on their way from Egypt to Eretz Yisrael. In all, their journey consisted of 42 pit stops. The type of traveling was not always the same. In this week’s parsha, Behaalotecha, we see a stark difference in how they traveled.

Having camped at Mount Sinai for over a year, they are finally ready to move on. They arrived at Sinai seven weeks after fleeing from Egypt. We don’t know of any formal travel pattern. We can only assume it was a ‘run for your lives’ atmosphere, where formalities mattered little. Freedom is what mattered. Spiritual progress and an encounter with the Divine were on their minds. At Sinai, all Jews stood, equally, in awe of their Creator.

When the Jews leave Sinai, however, things are quite different. They are now a formal people, with a spiritual identity and mandate. They have a spiritual center, embodied in the form of the Mishkan. They have unique roles and tribal duties.

When they encamped and traveled they adhered to a system. Tribal location, flags and leaders became part of daily life.

It is this spiritual journey that prepared them for their destination, the Promised Land.

To be sure, the journey was difficult. In a spiritual sense, it was an era of transformation. The former slaves would pass on, and only their children would enter the land of Israel.

And, for it to succeed, something dramatic was necessary.

At Sinai the Jews lingered for an entire year, by Divine command. This complete immersion in holiness secured their spiritual stamina and fortified them for the journey ahead. Instead of dispatching the Jews right after He gave them the Torah, G-d kept us close. He kept us close for over a year, nurturing and teaching us. It is with this strength that we were able to survive and persevere in the desert, a place of physical and spiritual hazard.

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The most essential part of a building’s survival is its foundation.

The most critical part of a person’s life is the foundational years. A college degree might indicate what career path a person chooses, but those accomplishments rest on the foundations built earlier in life.

Just as a child is influenced most during the formative years, we are all influenced most in our formative moments. The Jewish New Year influences the entire year. Shabbat influences the week ahead.

In fact, every day has its foundational moments. This is why Judaism emphasizes prayer as an important start to the day. To succeed on any given day, I need a solid foundation.

A nation, as well, requires a strong foundation. By keeping us for a year at Sinai, G-d was bolstering our base. The goal of the Jewish nation is establishing themselves as a sacred people in a sacred land. But, without a strong foundation, the goal may be elusive.

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The final score may be all that counts in a ballgame. But, without a strong foundation of training and a solid start, the chances for success grow slimmer.

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