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20/05/2021 11:14:03 AM


One of my favourite poems is Ithica, written by the Greek poet Cafavy in 1911. He looks back to the legendary journey of Ulysses and uses it to refer to the journey of every individual through life - each person is looking for their own mythical island of Ithaca, the locus of their longing and dreams. However, in the end, it is not the goal but the journey that matters, because this odyssey is what makes us wise and who we are.

“When you set out on your journey to Ithaca, pray that the road is long, full of adventure, full of knowledge...pray that the road is long. That the summer mornings are many, when, with such pleasure, with such joy you will enter ports seen for the first time; stop at Phoenician markets, and purchase fine merchandise, mother-of-pearl and coral, amber and ebony...visit many Egyptian cities, to learn and learn from scholars. Always keep Ithaca in your mind. To arrive there is your ultimate goal. But do not hurry the voyage at all. It is better to let it last for many years; and to anchor at the island when you are old, rich with all you have gained on the way...”

Journeys frame the greatest works of literature from the Bible to Homer, from the travel memoirs of medieval times to the Birthright youth making their way to Israel in Covid 2021. Journeys are also the framework of our lives. Comedian David Mitchell put it that “there ain’t no journey what don’t change you some”. Walt Whitman put it more elegantly: “I tramp a perpetual journey”.

Two journeys define Jewish consciousness and identity: the journey of Abraham from his birthplace to the Promised Land, the journey of the people of Israel from Egypt to the land of Israel. The wilderness journey shapes Jewish identity. In the inhospitable environment they discover who they are, what they’re capable of but also where they need to journey towards.

So while the getting there is critical for the formation of the nation, the being there would also be crucial for Jewish destiny and survival. The wilderness was both an incubator and a launching pad. The goal, the star we are heading towards is Israel; we are always in a Jerusalem state of mind; as the rabbi, poet and philosopher, Yehuda HaLevi put it, every step I take is towards Jerusalem. This is our Ithaca, mythical and mystical, illusory but so very real. Jerusalem is as real as the bloody sacrifices offered in its holiest spot, the sacred Temple. It is as real as the Jewish lives sacrificed for it. It is as real as the Jews who live there today. It is our holiest place and we feel for its pain today as it lives with the fear of rockets and the strife of its diverse citizens.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks makes another distinction about journeying: The journey from, he suggests, is easier than the journey can be easy and exciting to make the break but it takes strength, clarity and resolve to discover what you really want and where you should really be heading to. The Israelites, says Sacks, knew how to leave but not how to arrive; they experienced exodus but not entry. Remember your destination is one of the strongest mantras of Judaism. The rabbis of the Mishna articulated it as - Know where you have come from and know where you heading to.

So I thrill to the words of Cavafy and appreciate that the journey itself should be savoured and lived fully, I am inspired and driven by the words of Akaviah Ben Mehalelel (Avot 3:1) to always know where I have come from and to always keep my eyes on where I should be heading towards...

Shabbat Shalom - may it be a Shabbat of Shalom for the State and people of Israel.

Wed, 20 October 2021 14 Cheshvan 5782