As we come to the end of the tales of our wanderings through the wilderness – the last readings in the Book of Numbers – I find once again a richness of topics to explore. Yet, I really don’t want to talk about the things that have been discussed so many times before – issues of the role of women in Torah described by the ability of men to annul the vows of women or the requirements of marriage placed on the daughters of Z’laph’had; the battle against the Midianites and whether Moses or Adonai made the decision to kill the women and male children; or the statutes taught about punishment for murder and the cities of refuge.

Instead I want to focus on the end of this week’s reading – the double Parshiot of Mattot and Masei. As the portionsand the Book of B’Midbar end, the Jewish people are finishing their 40 years of wanderings. They have faced their last battle and are getting ready to enter the land of Israel. It is the beginning of a new wilderness for them; one for which they have been prepared through years of ever changing experiences and constant teachings. The text (Numbers 36:13) ends as follows: These are the mitzvot (the commandments) and the mishpatim (the statutes) that Adonai commanded by the hand of Moses to the children of Israel in the plains of Moab by the Jordan-Jericho.

It is an interesting ending, for when thinking of Adonai transmitting the mitzvot, one typically thinks of the Sinai experience. And, indeed in the end of the 3rd book of Torah – Vayikra – we find the following closing statement: (Leviticus 27:34) These are the mitzvot that Adonai commanded Moses for the children of Israel in Mount Sinai.

It’s important to note the subtle difference in these two statements – at Mount Sinai, we were given the commandments; by the end of our journey through the wilderness we had gained the statutes, as well  – the details that helped us learn to put the commandments into action in our daily lives.

It is a reminder to us all that just stating the rules is often not enough. At Mount Sinai, Adonai first shared the commandments – the big picture rules. He then went on, as we read in parshiot such as Kedoshim, to detail some of the ways we should behave in our day-to-day lives. Yet, even those details did not cover all possible situations, so for the next 38 years of wandering the mitzvot and mishpatim continued to be given. Along the way, we were also told to follow many chukim – behaviors that do not seem to have a logical explanation, yet one does them out of love for the rule giver.

As parents we cannot just say to our children “be a mensch” when they are born or when they first step out of our door and expect that this one statement will get them through life successfully. Instead, over time and in many different situations, we need to provide the mishpatim – the specific detailed rules that support such an overall “commandment.” We need to show them and to tell them how to be a mensch, helping them over the bumps in the road. We must help them find the path when it seems so overgrown and wild in front of them.

At the same time, as hard as it is, we also need to let them see and take some of their own steps through the overgrowth, for they will never understand how to use the rules as a guide if we clear every path for them. There are times we need to let our children stumble and experience the consequences. Then we need to be there to help them up, move beyond the misstep, finding gentle ways to remind them of the rules as they go forward.

We cannot expect them to find their way blindly, nor can we expect that we will always be there to clear the path for them. Like Adonai, as parents we need to teach the rules in enough different ways and provide enough experiences for our children to internalize the rules so they can use them as a guide for their actions. Hopefully they will have also learned that we will always be there, if they want to reach out, to help them figure out what to do next. Our lessons, along with the ever present Adonai, will always be part of the still, small voice that they hear throughout their lives.

As we watch our children grow and move into their own wildernesses, we can only hope and pray that we have done our job well.

Kein yehih ratzon – may it be so.

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