Can you imagine with me how the soldiers must have felt in June of 1967 when they reached the walls of the Old City and found that they were able to enter and then when they made it to the Kotel, The Wall, and then when they realized that there was no resistance and then how they felt when they made it all the way to the Temple Mount. This was the Jewish dream to be this close to the Holy of Holies in Jersalem - in Yerushalyim - Yir Shalom. Even the most secular Jew was moved by this moment.
We have been blessed to have heard this story from Rabbi Gil Nativ, a friend of the congregation and a Rabbi in Israel who was one of those paratroopers. And today was Yom Yerushalyim, celebrating 53 years since the reunification of Jerusalem.
Noone expected the 6 day war to be over in just 6 days. Actually Israelis were digging trenches to prepare to bury their dead which they anticipated being in very high numbers. People knew war was coming and they really didn’t know what the outcome would be. Today, when we talk about it as History, things seem so obvious. Of course little Israel would defeat the entire Arab world, Jerusalem would be recaptured, and Israel would become a source of pride for American Jewry. But while it was happening, the outcome was uncertain and scary.
Similarly we begin Bamidbar, in the Desert, the book of Numbers this week. It is obvious to us that the Israelites would be wandering in the desert for 40 years. But they didn’t know that. God didn’t say how long the journey would be. We only know this from hindsight. If you have ancestors who immigrated to America, when they started their journeys they had no idea how they would end. They had hopes and dreams and faith that something good would happen.
American soldiers who we are remembering this Memorial Day weekend didn’t know if they would make it home from war. Some did and some did not. We thank all of them for their bravery and service to our country as be imagine how frightening the unknown must have been.
Alvin Fine wrote a poem that we often hear at funerals or at a yizkor service. And when we read it in those circumstances we are applying it to a life that was. But tonight I’d like to share it with you as a reminder that life is an unknown journey. An adventure, full of twists and turns, some uplifting and others scary. Some joyful and others profoundly moving. It is a poem that when I read it today, in this moment, in which parts of life have stood still; when some days are great and others are awful (just like they were before) but everything seems more so now; I know, can inspire us to make the most of our journey.
Life Is a Journey
By Alvin Fine
Birth is a beginning and death a destination;
But life is a journey.
A going, a growing from stage to stage:
From childhood to maturity and youth to old age.
From innocence to awareness and ignorance to knowing;
From foolishness to discretion and then perhaps, to wisdom.
From weakness to strength or strength to weakness and often back again.
From health to sickness and back we pray, to health again.
From offense to forgiveness, from loneliness to love,
From joy to gratitude, from pain to compassion.
From grief to understanding, from fear to faith;
From defeat to defeat to defeat, until, looking backward or ahead:
We see that victory lies not at some high place along the way,
But in having made the journey, stage by stage, a sacred pilgrimage.
Birth is a beginning and death a destination;
But life is a journey, a sacred pilgrimage,
Made stage by stage...To life everlasting.
We can’t look back and see how it will all turn out. But we know that if we are here, we’ve probably overcome some adversity. So all we have is the now and how we choose to live it.
I love the midrash about the Israelites walking through the Sea of Reeds and realizing that while some people looked up and saw the miracle, some were so worried about what they were leaving behind and what the future would be that all they could do was look down and see the mud. Can you imagine living through the most miraculous event in Jewish history and missing it because you were busy tying your shoes or kvetching about something. What a beautiful reminder to look up, enjoy life and see the miracles all around us.
We can take inspiration from those who came before us and entered an unknown and survived. And even from those who didn’t make it, but they had their journey nevertheless.
In this hour, recommit to making the most of each moment. Take an extra walk, give an extra hug - virtual or physical. If it rains tomorrow- do something in your house you’ve been meaning to do, or curl up with a good book or play a board game. Do something that will help someone else.
We won’t know the outcome of this moment, or of our lives, until “looking backward to ahead, we see…that life is a journey, a sacred pilgrimage.” Seize each moment and celebrate. And one day we’ll know how it ends, and whatever way that is we will get to say we were part of the miracle.