The French writer Andre Malraux opens his autobiography, “Anti-Memoirs,” with the story of meeting an old comrade — a soldier with whom he fought in the war many years ago. The man subsequently became a priest. He told Malraux that from years of listening to confessions he had learned two things about human nature: that people have more trouble than he imagined and that “there is no such thing as a grown-up.”
In translation, this may be taken to be a central message of the Torah. Israel is called B’nei Yisrael, the children of Israel — and they often behave like children at their worst — whining and ungrateful. Moreover, they do experience great suffering. Indeed, when the Torah ends, when Deuteronomy concludes, the Israelites have not reached the Promised Land — they are still in the wilderness.
So we might recast the message of Malraux’s friend as the guiding image of the Torah — we are children of the wilderness. Throughout life, limitation and suffering endure. We never arrive, and too few of us wander with the poise and maturity life demands.
Children need a parent and in the wilderness each of us needs a map. God and Torah are the aids for our wandering. So let us, children of the wilderness all, join hands and find the way together.
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