Variations of the following conversation occur in many a Jewish home:

Wife: Honey, I think it's time we take another step in our Jewish growth, what do you think it should be?

Husband: Are you sure this is the right time? I mean we just sent the kids to camp and all.

Wife: Yes, dear, I'm certain. I wanted to do this for a long time and don't want to delay it any longer.

Husband: So what do you propose?

Wife: I have some ideas but I want to hear from you first.

And so it goes. She wants to kosher the kitchen; he wants to donate to local Jewish charities. She wants to take on Shabbat observance; he wants to put up new mezuzot. She wants to send the children to a Jewish day school; he wants to start regularly attending Shabbat services.

Precisely which route they will take does not matter as much as the fact that they are embarking on the journeyIt is a journey; but one with a purpose and direction. It is anchored in a desire to connect with their roots, their souls, their G‑d. Precisely which route they will take does not matter as much as the fact that they are embarking on the journey. These routes all pass through the Torah, and they all lead to G‑d. And the nice thing is that when you take on one new mitzvah you find yourself wanting to take on more. Before you know it, husband and wife are both granted their wishes.

The Destination

People often tell me wistfully how they wish they would have been raised in a Torah-observant home. They imagine that I am already at the destination that they are journeying towards. If they were at the destination they wouldn't have to worry about which route to take. They wouldn't have to agonize over their commitment and their faith; life would be so much easier. As if religiously born Jews are not tempted to go golfing on Shabbat or eat on Yom Kippur. As if religiously born Jews can easily reconcile the tragedies of this world and their faith in a supremely good Creator.

News flash: There is always another mitzvah. There is always a higher level of commitment. There is always a deeper level of faith. The journey of growth is life-long. And this is a good thing. Because the destination is far less exciting than the journey.

It is the summer season and many are planning family holidays. Let's be honest. What is the most enjoyable part of the holiday? It's not the cottage you spend time in or the foreign countries you visit. Let's face it: our own beds are much more comfortable and navigating in a foreign language is a pain. The long hours on the bike path under the hot sun look good in the picture albums, but are painful in real life. I think we can all admit that the best part of the holiday is the fact that we are on it. It is the journey more than the destination.

But the journey must be anchored in activities you find pleasurable and valuable. If you don't plan correctly and end up spending your holiday in places that hold no interest and accommodations that provide no comfort, you won't enjoy your holiday. In other words, if the journey is not anchored in the destination, it is not worth journeying towards. But if the destination is well chosen – the journey is worth every penny.

The same is true of spiritual growth. Arriving at the destination is no fun. The destination is that place where we return our souls to our Maker and receive our reward for decades of service. This is surely satisfying, but I don't know anyone who is rushing the process. At the destination there are no further obstacles to overcome. No further challenges to face. Growth is no longer an option when you are all grown up. No, I am not at all jealous of those who have arrived before me. On the contrary, they are jealous of me. They have arrived and I am still traveling. They are all grown up and I am still growing.

No, I am not at all jealous of those who have arrived before me. On the contrary, they are jealous of meJust the same I also know that they are only jealous because I am en route to a well chosen destination. Our journey is only worthwhile because our destination is well chosen. Our destination is that point when we can honestly say that our lives were lived for G‑d. That the decisions we made and the choices we confronted were determined based on the Torah. Our destination is that place where there is not a mitzvah we did not observe and not a layer of depth we were unwilling to explore.

Two Names

This is the message implied by the names of the double Torah portion we read this week. The first is Matot, which means staffs. The second is Masei, which means journeys. A staff is a symbol of firmly rooted stability whereas journeys indicate a work in progress. The two are opposites and seemingly don't belong in the same sentence.

Now I might conceive of combining them in the reverse order. First we journey and then we arrive at a destination that is firmly rooted and stable. Is the destination not the purpose of every journey? Why would we embark on a journey after we have already achieved stability?

However, in light of the ideas expressed above, the order of the names is perfectly clear. Indeed, the point of the entire exercise is the journey; it is the only part that counts. We don't live in order to receive reward in heaven. We receive the reward because we have lived and lived well. Life is a journey where every moment is an opportunity for growth.

Yet the only way this journey can be worthwhile is if it is purposeful. To fill our journey with meaning we must anchor it in firmly rooted values. We must determine our direction and destination first and only then we can embark on the journey of our life.

Which particular mitzvah will serve as the landmark of our journey is not important. The important part is that we are journeying toward a lifestyle that will be characterized by connection with G‑d. This is why the name Matot, firm stability, comes first. First we anchor ourselves on the correct path—then, with our compass facing north and our hearts directed toward heaven, we embark on Masei, the journey that lasts a lifetime.

This essay is based in part on a talk given by the Lubavitcher Rebbe on Shabbat Parshat Matot-Masei 5742 (1982).