Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of a landmark piece of legislation - the Civil Rights Act of 1964. First proposed by President John F. Kennedy in 1963, it was signed into law by JFK's successor, Lyndon B. Johnson. And one hundred years after the Civil War, African Americans long trek to equality was the law of the land. While not fully realized, the legislation ended segregation in public places and discrimination in employment based on color, sex, religion or national origin. While not yet in the Promised Land, the journey from slavery to freedom, after years of struggle and setbacks, was legalized.
This week's Torah portion also details a 40 year journey from slavery to freedom in detail description of the Israelites sojourn in the wilderness. It lists the name of each and every spot along their route from Egypt to the Promised Land.
While the midrash explains the account as a reflection of God's loving concern with each place, evoking memories and creating a deeper bond between the people and God, it is not just a nostalgic recapitulation.
Perhaps the account can be viewed as a parable on the nature of life's journey. We lead our lives with a goal. We want to be good people, serve our families and our communities. We want to bring the world closer to an era of peace and understanding among all humanity. This is the goal for which we strive but, just as there remains discrimination today, we find we are still in the wilderness of an unredeemed world. We are not yet in the Promised Land.
On the journey, there are many stops, many detours, many setbacks. We seem to move forward only to fall behind again. Though we go in circles rather than a straight line, we keep looking ahead to the future vision of a time of peace.
Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, in his "On Repentance", offers us a description of what it means for a Jew to identify with the eternal congregation of Israel.
"The Jew who lives with the congregation of Israel...who hurts with her pain and rejoices in her joy, who fights her wars and suffers her defeats, and celebrates her victories, the Jew who believes in the people Israel is the Jew who joins himself in an indestructible link not only to his generation but to all generations."
The parasha reminds us that the trek through the wilderness of life can be long and frustrating, and fraught with tensions. And yet, if we are united as a people, we will reach that Promised Land.
We have reached the end of the Book of Numbers. Traditionally we say at the conclusion of the reading of the last chapter, Chazak, Chazak, v'nitchazek. Be strong, be strong, and let us strengthen one another.
As shabbat enters, we are buoyed by the spirit of solidarity during this precarious moment in Israel. While rockets continue to explode across Israel and we receive the terrible news of loss of fallen soldiers, amidst all the sad tidings, we feel the resilience and strength of spirit that unites us everywhere.
Let us hope for a peaceful Shabbat for all ... May we continue to work for that time when as the Prophet Isaiah says: " Nation shall not life up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore." Then we will know we have arrived not only to the Promised Land but to a messianic era.