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The Bigger Picture

06/16/2022 02:18:12 PM


Leave only footprints, take only pictures. This was the reminder that my father gave me this week as I spent time away with my family in the Great Smoky Mountains in the North Carolina area. As we ventured out to see the Deep Creek waterfalls with our kiddos in tow, we quelled all statements of “I’m hungry” with the plethora of snacks we lugged around with us. Subsequently, when the little ones devoured the snacks, they would hand the trash back to me with a “here Abba'' and I dutifully would deposit the dregs and wrappers in my backpack. On one such occasion, I found myself in possession of a sticky apple core. A biodegradable apple core. An apple core that would be a tasty treat for the insects and forests of the national park. Should I throw it into the brush? “Leave only footprints, take only pictures.” Alas! I suppose I have a duty to preserve the natural state of the forest for future visitors.

In Parshat B’ha-alotecha, the Medieval French commentator, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (Rashi), describes a similar scene amongst the Israelites in the wilderness. In this week’s portion, the Torah describes how the Israelites camped around the Tabernacle, and how they would travel. Our text explains that the very last to break camp was the tribe of Dan who traveled in the rear. “Then, as a rear guard of all the divisions, the standard of the division of Dan would set out, troop by troop.” (Numbers 10:25) The Hebrew of “as a rear guard of all the divisions” is “M’asef l’chol hamachanot.” It is on the word “M’asef,” which means “to gather,” that Rashi makes his comment. As the gatherers of all of the divisions, Rashi imagines that the tribe of Dan has the responsibility of collecting all the lost objects of the other Israelites and then returning the objects to their rightful owners. In such a way, I imagine the tribe of Dan to be like the National Forest Rangers who are protecting the sanctity of the wilderness and making sure the mark left by the traveling Israelites was minimal. 

While I’m quite certain that the natural preservation of the wilderness was not what the Torah set out to teach us in this portion, I appreciate the recognition that people are forgetful and are prone to leaving things behind. Sometimes, we get so hyper focused on what is going on in front of us, we forget to appreciate and consider the larger picture. Sure, my hand is sticky and the apple is biodegradable, but what about the preservation of this forest and the experience of future hikers? Or for the Israelites, packing up and moving on surely is a moment that consumes one’s attention. Yet despite the big task at hand, perhaps the Israelites would be wise to take stock of their surroundings and keep track of their items. Perhaps we too can look past our noses at the bigger picture. Afterall, we don’t always have words of wisdom from family members or an entire Tribe of Dan as backstops.  We often only have ourselves and perhaps this reminder to slow down and keep perspective.

Sat, May 25 2024 17 Iyyar 5784