The list of the Israelites' encampments during their journeys in the wilderness reminds us of the importance of preserving and retelling our own stories.
Most likely, this list comes from the most ancient sources. We can imagine that since the list is just a list, our ancestors heard it and knew exactly what these places represented. They had complete stories in mind, having full understanding of the events that took place there (as we do when we hear the words Watergate or Woodstock, for example). They probably thought those stories would always be remembered by the hearers of the list.
So one thing we learn is that even the most important story may be forgotten if the hearers do not pass it on. What happened at Rithmah or at Rimmon-perez? We will never know.
There are stories in our time, too, awesome and tragic ones, and they may also be forgotten. Hundreds of thousands of Jews emigrated from centuries-old centers of Jewish life, and a generation was wiped out in Europe, and only a handful are still here to tell of it. This can also be true of our own histories in this renaissance of Jewish life in America. When we are gone, will these dramatic events become like Rithmah?
Let us remember to tell and retell the stories that help us understand our world and our place in it as Jews. Let us make time for stories in our Jewish lives at home and in our congregations. Let us support community projects that record our stories and the stories of those who have come before us. Let us listen and ask questions of our own families--parents and grandparents--and record and preserve their stories for ourselves and for the collective memory of our people. Let us tell and retell so that our common destiny will live on--leolam vaed (forever).
For Further Reading:
Studies in Bemidbar, Nehama Leibowitz (Israel: Haomanim Press, 1993).
A Celebration of Neurons, Robert Sylvester (ASCD,1997).
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