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Matot Masei 5772

By: Rav Yonatan Horovitz

The Journey – Rav Yonatan Horovitz On reading the first part of Parshat Massei, two obvious questions arise: 1) Why does the Torah see fit to list all the places at which Am Yisrael encamped in the wilderness and, more particularly, why are the phrases ‘vayissu’ – ‘they journey’ and ‘vayachanu’ – ‘they encamped’ employed each time? Surely a straightforward list would have sufficed. 2) Given that these details are important for us to know, why has the Torah not referred to them until now? Many of the mefarshim discuss these issues. We will note several and in doing so we will endeavor to find a relevant message from this parsha. Rashi, in his comments to Ch. 33 Verse 1 quotes Rabbi Moshe Hadarshan: “Why are these journeyings recorded here? To inform us of G-d’s kindnesses, for despite having decreed that they (Am Yisrael) would wander in the wilderness, do not think that they were traveling from place to place for the whole forty years, without rest, for there are only 42 journeys listed here. Subtract 14 which were in the first year prior to the decree . . . further subtract 8 which took place after Aharon’s death until their arrival at Arvot Moav (all in the 40th year), we find that in thirty-eight years they only traveled 20 times.” Rashi’s explanation seems to help us digest what often seems the harsh reality of Sefer Bamidbar. We see, through the list of journeys, that Hashem Himself had mercy upon Am Yisrael despite punishing them. According to Rashi, we also understand the value of listing all the journeys together in one group as opposed to reading them across the entire Torah. We could add a further point here. We tend to judge Am Yisrael somewhat harshly when we examine their behaviour in the desert. Time and again they complain to Hashem and Moshe about their living conditions and the lack of food and water. Am Yisrael were in the midbar for 40 years, yet they grumbled a mere ten times (See Bamidbar 14:22). This is not a large number when we consider the amount of time they spent in the wilderness. It is to this perseverance that the verse in Yirmiyahu refers: "So says the Lord, I recall the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed Me in the wilderness in a land not sown (Yirmiyahu 2:2). The list of masa'ot in this week's parsha allows us the opportunity to view the journey in the midbar as one unit and so gain a different perspective on that period in our collective history. Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim (Volume 3 Ch.50) adds another dimension to the importance of the list of journeys. In discussing the sections of the Torah which seem to be superfluous, he writes: “The need to enunciate the journeys was indeed great. For miracles and signs performed were real to those who witnessed them, but in the future they will be but hearsay, and those that hear of them may deny them. Of the greatest miracles in the Torah is the stay of Am Yisrael in the wilderness, the advent of the Manna every day. This wilderness is distant from any inhabited place, an unnatural habitat for man to survive.” Rambam continues to say that in order that future generations will appreciate and believe in the many miracles which sustained Am Yisrael in the wilderness, the Torah lists all the places at which they encamped, thus connecting sites with miraculous events which occurred there. A similar notion is found in Rashi’s second interpretation cited from Midrash Tanchuma and demonstrated through a parable. “It is compared to a king whose son is ill and whom he took to a distant land to heal. On his return journey his father began to enumerate the various stages of their journey. He said to him: here we slept, here we caught cold, here your head felt weak etc.” As opposed to Rashi’s first explanation, but similar to Rambam, the Tanchuma emphasizes the symbolism of each place, each station, and the miracle or the memories it may symbolize. This idea is encapsulated by Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch in his opening remarks to this Perek. “A whole list of events and experiences could have been connected with these journeys and resting-places in the wilderness, the remembrance of which would have value for the families and relations and descendents of those to whom they occurred, but which found no place in these books of the general national population, but the verbal tradition would be incited for their remembrance by this summary.” Rav Hirsch further suggests that the mentioning of these resting places would invite the descendents of the generation of the wilderness to visit them, embrace the historical wealth that these places represent and “bring to their own minds the speaking fact of the Presence of G-d on earth.” Thus far we have explained the motivation for listing all these places, and for doing so in just one chapter rather than across the entire Torah. We still, however, remain with the problem of repetition of the words ‘vayissu’ and ‘vayachanu’. Why could the Torah not have opened this Perek – ‘These are all the sites at which Am Yisrael camped during their journeys in the wilderness ...’? Sforno attempts to answer this question in his comment to Verse 2: “And Moshe wrote – he wrote their place of destination and the point of departure, for sometimes their destination was a place of evil and the place of departure good ... and sometimes the opposite was true. He also wrote the details of the journey for this involves leaving one place for another with no warning, which was very trying. And despite all this, they were not delayed and therefore it states about each (journey): And they journeyed (vayissu) from one place, and they encamped (vayachanu) at the next, for both the journeying and the encamping are difficult experiences.” Sforno emphasizes the importance and the difficulty of the journey – not merely the places to which and from which they journeyed. This could explain why the perek begins “Eile maaseh Bnei Yisrael” – “These are the journeyings of Bnei Yisrael”. The Torah lists the fact that Am Yisrael traveled from one destination to another because that too is crucial for us to know. The point of arrival is not the only purpose to any journey. Rather the route, the method by which we get to our destination, this too is significant. This idea emerges from the various commentaries quoted above. On the one hand, Rambam, the Tanchuma and Rav Hirsch note the significance of each stage of our journey towards Eretz Yisrael. The time we spent in the desert is not merely a break between generations – it has its own place in our national memory. On the other hand, the very essence of the movements from one destination to another, also contribute to this significance as conveyed by the words of Seforno. We all say, ‘the end justifies the means’, but possibly the message of Parshat Massei is that the means, too, are important. We must learn from the steps we are forced to take towards any particular goal, just as we learn from the various stages of our personal and world history. If our journey is meaningful then how much greater will be the end to which we strive. Shabbat shalom, Rav Yonatan


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