But I Have Promises To Keep And Miles To Go Before I Sleep

In discussing this week’s Torah Portion, Matot-Masay (Numbers 30-36 ) the late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sack makes some very profound statements about Life’s Journey:

After discussing some myths and their typical topology he states:

“… the Torah is not myth but anti-myth, a deliberate insistence on removing the magical elements from the story and focusing relentlessly on the human drama of courage versus fear, hope versus despair, and the call, not to some larger-than-life hero but to all-of-us-together, given strength by our ties to our people’s (or family/tribes) past and the bonds between us in the present.

The Torah is not some fabled escape from reality but reality itself, seen as a journey we must all undertake, each with our own strengths and contributions to our people and to humanity.

We are all on a journey. And we must all rest from time to time. …

In life, there are journeys and encampments. Without the encampments, we suffer burnout. Without the journey, we do not grow. And life is growth. There is no way to avoid challenge and change.

The late Rav Aharon Lichtenstein zt”l once gave a beautiful class on Robert Frost’s poem, ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,’ with its closing verse:

The woods are lovely dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

He analyses the poem in terms of Kierkegaard’s distinction between the aesthetic and ethical dimensions of life. The poet is enchanted by the aesthetic beauty of the scene, the soft silence of the falling snow, the dark dignity of the tall trees. He would love to stay here in this timeless moment, this eternity-in-an-hour. But he knows that life has an ethical dimension also, and this demands action, not just contemplation. He has promises to keep; he has duties toward the world. So he must walk on despite his tiredness. He has miles to go before he sleeps: he has work to do while the breath of life is within him.

The poet has stopped briefly to enjoy the dark wood and falling snow. He has encamped. But now, like the Israelites in Massei, he must set out again. … ethics takes priority over aesthetics. Yes, there are moments when we should, indeed must, pause to see the beauty of the world, but then we must move on, for we have promises to keep, including the promises to ourselves and to God.

Hence the life-changing idea: life is a journey, not a destination. We should never stand still. Instead we should constantly set ourselves new challenges that take us out of our comfort zone. Life is growth.”

My life has changed dramatically this year. Out of trauma and challenge due to making a strong ethical stand, the Almighty has blessed me most surprisingly and abundantly. My ‘tree-change’ has been beyond and better than my dreams.

And yet, I feel I have  ‘pause(ed) to see the beauty of the world’, despite the horror that I also see. I am loving this ‘pause’ but also wondering on this Shabbat (Sabbath) when my ‘sabbatical’ may be over and what new challenges may lie ahead.

I hope and pray that all who read this may be able to reflect on this life’s journey and whether you are currently ‘encamped’ or walking hard and facing new challenges, that you may see the hand of HaShem on your life leading you ultimately to being the best version of yourself and approaching all that He designed and planned you to be, this side of the Olam HaBah (the Coming Age).

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