This week’s parshah, Naso, has us poised in the desert wilderness, neither here nor there, but ready to move on to the next step of the journey.
The Torah goes on to describe how the twelve tribes (our ancestors) were encamped around the Ark of the Covenant, with each tribe sporting a degel machaneh, a flag of that camp; for all the world to see.
When it was time for the Israelite people to move forward, trumpet blasts were sounded, and each tribe, led by its flag, its degel machaneh, would together move forward into the unknown.
But how would they know when to move forward, and when to stay put?
God gave our ancestors a signal to follow- a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night.
When the pillar rested above the Mishkan, our portable tabernacle, that meant that we were to remain camped. This was a time to regroup, to refresh, and find our balance. But when that pillar moved, that was our signal to break camp and move with it.
This liminal state of being, that transitional space, was essential to our Jewish identity.
For in each transition, we learned who we really were when we were taken out of our comfort zone, without really knowing what was next.
In this transition, we were taught, again and again, that nothing is permanent but our love for one another, and God’s Divine Plan.
The ‘staying put’ and the ‘moving on’ were two equally important parts to our journey through the Wilderness, the yin and the yang. Without the journey, we would become stagnant but, without the encampments, we would drift in the wind.
According to the Parshah, sometimes the pillar rested for less than a day, other times for a month, or even a year. But when it was time for us to journey forward, the pillar would move and we would move with it. A pillar of cloud by day, and that of fire by night, but always we were guided on a path illuminated by God’s love.
When that pillar moved, our ancestors would break camp to begin the journey into the unknown.
Each tribe marched together, proudly flying their unique tribal flag, their degel macheneh, for all to see.
Today, we too have our degel machaneh, our tribal flags- they are our graduating children.
These days are rich with graduation ceremonies: from preschool to religious school, from elementary school to grammar school, high school, colleges and graduate schools across the country.
No less than those tribal flags of the Torah, our children and grandchildren, nieces and nephews, sally forth into the world.
They too embody the very best of who we are as a people. They are held up high by our efforts and our dreams.
With love we raise our eyes to them, and follow them into the future, that next step into the unknown.
And so it behooves us to send them off with our most sincere blessings, for their sake, and for ours.
Our blessing to our graduates:
May you know that you have your tribe with you wherever you go. Even when your way is unclear, know that you are never alone.
May you strive to new heights knowing that we, your people, and 4,000 years of tradition will keep you steady and secure against the storms.
May you be God’s right hand and partner in bringing about tikkun olom; and may your efforts bring forth justice like a mighty stream, righteousness like unstoppable waters.