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What names do you give to your journeys and to your stops along the way

שלטי דרכים

 Translation by Yehoshua Siskin (

Once a fire broke out next to the hotel we were staying at on Shabbat and we had to quickly leave our room together with our small children. An hour later the fire was put out and we returned to our hotel. I tried to calm the children but was left with the feeling that this had been a frightening experience for all of us.

Several weeks later, we were traveling in the same area and one of our children pointed at the hotel and excitedly said: "This is the place where we had so much fun when we ran out of the hotel."
We give names to the journeys we take and to the stops we make along the way. Any experience can be described in terms of the dry facts involved, but our commentary surrounding those facts is crucial. Is what we endured -- or are enduring now -- a failure or a precursor to success? Is what has happened to us a horrible embarrassment or a fantastic opportunity to learn and grow? Only we can determine that.

In this week's Torah portion of Masei, the names of our 42 encampments in the Sinai Desert are listed. Rabbi Bachya ben Asher, a commentator living in Spain 700 years ago, wrote that all the places where  the nation stopped did not even have names before we arrived. The desert was empty, without landmarks. It was the nation of Israel that determined the name of each place. "Each place according to the intent (mindset of the nation)."

When the children of Israel were joyful and righteous, faithful and good, the places where they stopped were called Mitkah and Har-Shefer, names signifying metikut (sweetness) and shipur (improvement). But when the people's spiritual condition deteriorated, the places where they stopped were called Charadah and Marah, names signifying fear and bitterness.

The decision is in our hands. What are the names we give to our journeys, and what are the names we give to the places where we stop along the way?

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