Road Trip Judaism
This summer like many American families, we packed up our gear, kicked the tires and hit the road. My family and I went on a 3,500 mile road trip across seven states camping, hiking, floating and spelunking our way through national parks and monuments. In the early morning we woke our children and placed them gingerly in the overladen minivan. We had a plan: out by six, arrive by three; make camp, eat dinner, sing songs, make a fire; off to bed and wake to hiking. We were focused and excited.
As we juddered forward on our adventure (leaving at six-thirty) I was sitting in the driver’s seat ready to zoom out of town. All I could think of was of our great adventures - the mountains calling me to climb them, the waterfalls calling me to basque, the friends we will meet along the way. These are the days of glory under the blue vaulted sky, I thought. The road ahead is open and we have so much of it planned out.
When we arrived in Yosemite, there was a forest fire making the sky hot and hazy and the air smokey. When we drove to the Great Basin National Park, it poured rain. In Yellowstone, when the dirt road kicked up, a rock and cracked our windshield. At one point, half the family was sick, sneezing and coughing for hours. As the old Yiddish saying goes, “We plan, God laughs.”
Needless to say, these moments created a sense of frustration that welled up like a geyser. We had been planning for months, how can this ruin our plans!
I can’t help but reflect on this week's Torah portion, Eikev. The Israelites themselves are on a road trip. Leaving Egypt and crossing the desert with God as their GPS telling which way to turn. And like all road trips, they take bad turns, have run-ins and mishaps. Most of the issues that arise for the nation are because they have their own preconceived notions of what the journey will be like. They want to be liberated “their way” and go on their own path to freedom.
God will have none of that, not for the Israelites and not for us. Three times in Eikev, Moses boils the message of Judaism down into a simple truth: what God wants from us is to be humble, reflect on our lives and "Walk in God’s ways” (Duet. 8:6, 10:12, 11:22). It’s not that God has plan for each of us - we wouldn’t know it even if that were true. It’s that God’s most foundational truth is that making plans and sticking to them are just different categories of being. Realizing the path before you is an open-ended journey where you see the greatness in people and places gives you room to expand your notion of yourself. Your moral horizon grows as much as the physical one.
Walking in God’s path means having the opportunity to meet and talk to locals about how the fire is affecting their lives and making a human connection. Walking in God’s path means climbing into a little motel room in a deserted town and falling asleep amongst the warmth of family as you feel the thunder and hear the rain. Walking in God’s path means turning onto a dirt road on the spur of the moment and finding a patch of unspoiled nature where bears are at play amongst the butterflies. The Torah constantly reminds us that God’s path is full of wonder and surprises in spite of our plans not because of them.
It turns out that the best moments of my summer were the spontaneous ones. Our family grew closer when he had to stop and laugh at the bison sitting in the road in front of us. We felt closer to the land when we rushed outside in the rain to take pictures of the double rainbow. Our summer felt special when we made a talent show with our friends and got silly together.
This is the Godly path of life. This is road trip Judaism.