If you haven’t watched James Corden and Paul McCartney’s Carpool Karaoke Segment from this past week, you need to do so immediately (https://www.npr.org/2018/06/25/623165594/beep-beep-yeah-paul-mccartney-on-cordens-carpool-karaoke-is-tv-at-its-best). Not only should you watch it because it is deeply moving while also absolutely hilarious. Watch it because of the brilliant way that it points out how location triggers memory. As McCartney and Corden drive around Liverpool together singing Beatles songs, McCartney points to the places that were the inspiration behind the music. They stop at the Barber Shop on Penny Lane and walk into his childhood home where he famously “jumped out, got out of bed, and ran a comb across my head.” Reflecting on the experienced, Paul remarked, “Standing here make me think about the distance from where we were then, to where we have come now: it’s phenomenal.”
In a few weeks, we will read the Torah portion Maasey, which opens with a list of names of places where the Israelites camped. To the untrained reader of Torah, the list seems rather insignificant. Why is it so important that we record several dozen stops along the way? And if it is significant, why doesn’t the Torah tell us more details?
A trained reader will then go and pick up the chumash. He or she will go back into the Torah and find the locations that are being talked about. Many of them have a story. Often, the Israelites faced a challenge. The answer to our question must be that simply the allusion of a name or place carried with it the power of memory. Maasey is an ancient game of Carpool Karaoke. The sheer distance the Israelites went was phenomenal, even without invoking the details.
Whenever Amy and I drive around Philadelphia, she can attest to the fact that I drive her and the kids absolutely nuts in the car. Everything we see is a landmark that has a story. I point out the restaurant where my friends and I once went for milkshakes. Then, on the right, I tell her, was the field where we used to have Shabbat afternoon baseball games. Lately, I’ve started to the same with Atlanta. Every time we pass the King and Queen buildings I tell them I teach a monthly Torah study there. “Standing here,” to quote Paul McCartney, “makes me think about the distance from where we were then, to where we have come now: it’s phenomenal.”
I will likely continue to drive Amy nuts. But now, I am just going to tell her that I am preparing for the day when I am famous and on Carpool Karaoke with James Corden.