In what used to be my home, there are boxes containing the clothes I wore at my wedding, boxes of toys that my children will not give up, boxes holding the dishes I use at special occasions, boxes of photographs of relatives living and gone, and (many, many) boxes of books. Tomorrow morning, the truck will come to take all the boxes and move my life 1,366 miles, south by southwest.
It is at this moment—on this threshold that separates yesterday from tomorrow—that I can't help but think about how I got to this moment in life and where I am heading. I think of those corrugated cardboard boxes as telling a story about my life ... as if it were knowable.
It's easy to think that life can be reduced to an accumulation of stuff that can be separated, sorted, categorized and explained. We tend to forget, though, that, in day-to-day experience, the story of our lives is invisible to us. There are no sharp, defining corners. There are no neat bundles that can be carried one at a time. Our lives, as they are lived, are more complex than we can describe, with origins we do not understand, and a destination we cannot perceive.
There is a nice commentary on this week's Torah portion (Mas'ei) that points to this truth. The portion describes how the daughters of Zelophechad, whom we met two weeks ago in Parashat Pinchas, were required to marry within their tribe because they had inherited land from their father when he died without a male heir. The land must remain within their father's tribe, so the daughters are required to marry men of the same tribe. This becomes a law for all women in the identical situation.
However, many commentators have noticed that this law does not prevent some, or even most, of the situations in which a woman might inherit land. If a woman is already married to a man from another tribe when her father dies without a male heir, according to the law, she will inherit the land and the land eventually will pass out of her father's tribe. Why isn't there something in the law to prevent that situation?
The Ramban (also known as Nachmanides) says of this seeming inconsistency that, "The Torah does not want to concern itself with things to come in the future." That is, the Torah does not wish to prevent women from marrying outside of their tribe because of the mere possibility that they might someday inherit land. The Torah is about life in the now. We cannot live properly in the present if we are forever shadowed by what might be in the future.
To strengthen his point, Ramban quotes the book of Ecclesiastes, which asks, "Who can straighten what God has twisted?” (Ecclesiastes 7:13).
Life is filled with a seemingly endless series of false starts, plot twists, and surprise endings. Nobody knows exactly what possibile turns of fate have led us to the moment we now inhabit. None of us can say where the future might take us. The Torah is not concerned with where we might end up in a year—or five, or ten, or a thousand—from now. The Torah can only speak to the situation we are in right now, at this moment.
At this moment, the boxes surround me. At this moment, I cannot be sure about how I got here, or where this collection of memories may accompany me in the future. The only thing that matters is now. God is going to keep twisting my life around me, whether I like it or not. The only thing I can do is appreciate the journey, wherever it takes me, and enjoy the blessing of now.