Threshold Moments

Threshold Moments
Light bursting through the threshold of a closed wooden door attached to stone walls

Threshold moments.

How does the Torah describe them? What do they call us to do? When do they appear?

Threshold moments are one theme of Parshat Matot-Masei (Num. 30:2–36:13).

Technically, the words matot and masei mean “tribes” and “travels.” The parsha discusses land grants to tribes. And it traces the travels of the Israelites through the wilderness.

But the words matot and masei also mean “families” and “journeys.” And don’t those words tell the story of our lives? Don’t they invite us to ask some big questions:

Where did we come from? How did we get here? Where are we headed?

We can ask these questions anytime. Because we always stand at the threshold between past and future. We can see this if we pay attention in just the right way.

As Moshe does. Torah says, God spoke to Moshe on the plains of Moab, by the Jordan River near Jericho (Num. 33:50, 35:1; similar in 36:13).

Of course Moshe hears God’s voice here. Because this is not just a physical place. It’s also a psychic threshold. Notice the Hebrew. Arvot Moav, ערבת מואב, the plains of Moab, at Yarden Yereicho, ירדן ירחו, Jericho on the Jordan.

Arvot ערבות shares its root with the Hebrew word erev ערב—evening or mixture. Erev is the twilight time of day, when light blends into darkness. Familiar objects lose their shape. Dreams play with our memories, putting them in strange new contexts.

Moav מואב builds on the word Av אב. Yes, av means father, but in Biblical Hebrew, av also means the fresh green growth of spring plants. Moav is that which causes new growth.

Yarden Yereicho ירדן ירחו means the setting of the moon. Yarad ירד, goes down, and yareach ירח, moon. Moonset: what we see when two worlds, our earth and the moon, dance around each other.

Arvot Moav al Yarden Yereicho. A twilight time of new growth at the intersection of familiar and unfamiliar worlds.

A perfect time to ask yourself: Where did I come from? How did I get here? Where am I going?

When does a moment become a threshold moment? Any time you pause to ask yourself the questions.

Excerpted from a dvar Torah offered at Or Shalom Synagogue, July 16, 2023

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