Trace your journey
on the earth
that holds you
The writing in the
remnants of passage
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As we approach the closing of this "Book of Wilderness," the aspect of recap and recreation is highlighted. As Moses' prepares to be "gathered to his fathers," it seems that the book is "gathering" its strands together. If the previous chapter focused on recapping the narrative path, here we trace the literal , physical passage: the list of "departures and going" in the forty years wandering through the wilderness.
This is the first time since Sinai that the act of writing is emphasized: "and Moses wrote their goings forth and their passage. according to God's command." For the first time, we find out that the story has been recorded since the initial "going forth" from Egypt. If at Sinai, Moses engraved God's words "into stone", here it seems that the act of walking engraves the earth, so that the land itself holds the story of the passage.
Here, more important than any act is the character of the land. We say nothing of revelation, but must know that "Etham is in the edge of the wilderness" and that there were "twelve fountains of water and seventy palm trees" in Elim.
The underlying motif connecting this journey from Egypt to the fords of Moab is the deepest, most primal connection to the earth: burial (k'b'r). We begin the journey as the Egyptians bury the dead from the Plague of the Firstborn; the journey to the "wilderness of Sinai" is punctuated by the "graves (kibroth) of lust"; we close the first part of the journey at Hor haHar, the site of Aaron's death; the journey ends at Nebo, the future site of Moses' death and burial.
This catalog of forty years journey traces and celebrates the long way that Israel has come since they set forth from the "mouth of freedom". Yet it is also filled with the aura of endings as we prepare for the "passage" into the new beginning in the Promised Land. This chapter is both a farewell to the desert, and an introduction to the Land, highlighting the deep connection to the earth.]