Seven Wanderers

This week’s alumni Dvar Torah is by Matthew Kritz

I invite to my Sukkah seven esteemed guests: Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Yosef, Moshe, Aharon, and David.

וַיּוֹצֵ֨א אֹת֜וֹ הַח֗וּצָה וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ הַבֶּט־נָ֣א הַשָּׁמַ֗יְמָה וּסְפֹר֙ הַכּ֣וֹכָבִ֔ים אִם־תּוּכַ֖ל לִסְפֹּ֣ר אֹתָ֑ם וַיֹּ֣אמֶר ל֔וֹ כֹּ֥ה יִהְיֶ֖ה זַרְעֶֽךָ׃

Avraham our father, why do we wander?

Break out of foolish ways of thinking, my child. Going outside your physical space is the first step to entering new mental spaces, by not being bound to the familiar. To be an iconoclast calls for stepping outside, risking being different, being ready to learn and discover. Look beyond the four walls given to you; truth is waiting for you outside. (Rashi ad. loc. Breishit Raba 42:8)

וַיֵּצֵ֥א יִצְחָ֛ק לָשׂ֥וּחַ בַּשָּׂדֶ֖ה לִפְנ֣וֹת עָ֑רֶב וַיִּשָּׂ֤א עֵינָיו֙ וַיַּ֔רְא וְהִנֵּ֥ה גְמַלִּ֖ים בָּאִֽים׃

Yitzchak our father, why do we wander?

My child, how can you find G-d in the midst of the bustle of life? How can you pray when surrounded by distractions? To speak to the Almighty, you’ll need to go far away, to a place where no one will find you. There, freed from the noise of the world, you will begin to hear your own breathing and your own thoughts. Alone, you will not be ashamed to pour out your heart to G-d, remembering that you and G-d are both lonely, eager to find one another. (Seforno, ad. loc.)

וַיֵּצֵ֥א יַעֲקֹ֖ב מִבְּאֵ֣ר שָׁ֑בַע וַיֵּ֖לֶךְ חָרָֽנָה׃

Yaakov our father, why do we wander?

In wandering, our trust in G-d is put to the test, my child. Whether we will return home safely, whether we  will have bread to eat and clothing to wear, is in the hands of G-d. On the road, we cannot rely on familiar surroundings; our only choice is to foster within ourselves an awareness of our dependence on G-d, which, in reality, is present even when we feel self-confident. (Breishit Raba 79, Mechilta 16:20)

וַתִּתְפְּשֵׂ֧הוּ בְּבִגְד֛וֹ לֵאמֹ֖ר שִׁכְבָ֣ה עִמִּ֑י וַיַּעֲזֹ֤ב בִּגְדוֹ֙ בְּיָדָ֔הּ וַיָּ֖נָס וַיֵּצֵ֥א הַחֽוּצָה׃

Righteous Yosef, why do we wander?

As you wander, you will encounter worlds foreign to you, cultures that look different from your own. In wandering, you will be forced to discover within yourself a commitment to your own values, to know when you must run away. To flee from evil is the ultimate test, to be ready to leave everything behind in the name of what you believe. In wandering, you demonstrate where you refuse to go, no matter the cost; you show that your true home is not the place you are from, but the people you are from. (Sotah 36b, Ramban Breishit 39:8, Introduction to Mesilat Yesharim)

וַיְהִ֣י ׀ בַּיָּמִ֣ים הָהֵ֗ם וַיִּגְדַּ֤ל מֹשֶׁה֙ וַיֵּצֵ֣א אֶל־אֶחָ֔יו וַיַּ֖רְא בְּסִבְלֹתָ֑ם וַיַּרְא֙ אִ֣ישׁ מִצְרִ֔י מַכֶּ֥ה אִישׁ־עִבְרִ֖י מֵאֶחָֽיו׃

Moshe, our teacher, why do we wander?

From within the walls of your own home, you cannot see the suffering that surrounds you. Security lays the groundwork for complacency; wandering out allows us to see what others take for granted. Wander in order to gain an outsider’s perspective, to remove the mask of the normal from what is, in truth, injustice. Doing so will make you more aware of what others do not notice, be that the suffering of the innocent, or a peculiar, unburnt bush. (Midrash Tanchuma, Shemot 9)

וַיִּֽחַר־אַ֨ף ה’ בְּמֹשֶׁ֗ה וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ הֲלֹ֨א אַהֲרֹ֤ן אָחִ֙יךָ֙ הַלֵּוִ֔י יָדַ֕עְתִּי כִּֽי־דַבֵּ֥ר יְדַבֵּ֖ר ה֑וּא וְגַ֤ם הִנֵּה־הוּא֙ יֹצֵ֣א לִקְרָאתֶ֔ךָ וְרָאֲךָ֖ וְשָׂמַ֥ח בְּלִבּֽוֹ׃

Aharon, righteous priest, why do we wander?

Our desires, and our responsibilities, are not always easily within reach. Those goals we truly care to accomplish, we must journey for, to show we are ready to go the distance. Some wandering is aimless, but other wandering is better termed journeying, setting our goals high and pursuing them. To take the long way is an act of love; it shows we cared enough to travel. (Midrash Agada Shemot 4:14)

וְיָצָ֥א חֹ֖טֶר מִגֵּ֣זַע יִשָׁ֑י וְנֵ֖צֶר מִשָּׁרָשָׁ֥יו יִפְרֶֽה׃

King David, why do we wander?

Do not think that all is settled, for even as you sit in a house of cedars, the ark of the covenant remains in a tent. Keep wandering, to remember that your story is unfinished, that the exile goes on, that the Messiah has not yet come. Continue wandering, for you mustn’t think you’ve reached your destination. There is still work to be done in the wilderness before the next generation can build a permanent home for G-d. (Midrash Agada Shemot 4:14)


Matthew Kritz (SBM 2018) is a chaplain intern at Princeton Medical Center, and an Associate at Gal Ventures, LLC. He hopes to begin rabbinical school next year.

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