3 Cheshvan 5781 / Wednesday, October 21, 2020 | Torah Reading: Noach
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Masei: The Divine Guide    

Masei: The Divine Guide

Traveling along our road in life is sometimes taxing and we can lose sight that "The Divine Guide" is taking us where we need to go...


As we conclude the fourth book of the Torah, we come to the end of the narrative of the travels of the Jewish people. As a recap of their journeys and the lessons learned during the forty year sojourn, the Torah counts the forty two locations they encamped beginning with their departure from Egypt until their last encampment before entering the Holy Land.
In the narrative of these travels there is an interesting description of these events. Their journeys are described by two Hebrew words "Their goings out (Motza'aihem) to their journeys (l'masaihem)". Simply put, there were two steps to the process, the leaving from place A ("goings out", in plural since they traveled numerous times) and the traveling to place B ("their journeys"). What is the significance of this somewhat choppy phrasing? After informing us that these travels were by the word of Hashem, the verse switches the order describing the exact same event. "These are their journeys according to their goings out." What is added by this change of words?
Although many commentators provide explanations to these questions, I'd like to mention two disparate approaches and suggest how they can be seen as complimentary.
First is the idea of Rabbi Samson R. Hirsch (1808-88) which is very relevant to the many of us "travelers" today. When a person travels he usually has one of two intentions. Either he has a specific destination he wants to get to or he can be attempting to leave his point of origin without much concern where he's going. Although in both cases he's possibly traveling in the same direction, there is a major difference between the two. The first approach shows purpose and intent while the second reflects a desire to get away from where one is irregardless of the destination.
Rabbi Hirsch explains that Hashem had a plan and specific goals for our travels. After Hashem decided we had satisfactorily learned the lessons of a particular location, we were commanded to leave that place ("their goings out") and encamp in a new location that would provide new teachings ("their journeys"). Conversely, the Jewish people, as a whole, was often unsettled and unhappy about their encampments. They wanted to go further ("their journeys") primarily because they anxiously hoped to get away from where they were ("their goings out"). The verse mentioned above reflects both sides of the picture. Hashem meant their travels as a means of learning (at least) forty two essential lessons paralleling their forty two stops but, too often, they only felt the burden of being brought to places not to their liking and subsequently were overly anxious to leave.
A different approach is taken by the Holy Rabbi of Ishbitz (1801-54) whose thoughts can be explained by way of analogy: a coach of a team scouts for what he considers to be the best draft pick. He watches a specific player up close, inquires about his talents and skills, and, at a certain point, he signs him up for the team. The other members of his coaching squad might wonder why he decided to pick this particular player. Until the season's games are played he can't prove his choice but after finishing a successful year, the coach can now show the reasons behind his pick. On the other hand, the season for the player, who may have less of an idea behind the coach's thinking, relates to joining the club as an opportunity to fully develop himself into a top-notch player.
Hashem picked the Jewish people because He knew they were special and would do a great job for the "team", i.e. publicizing Hashem's presence in this world. He wouldn't be able to counter those who claimed that the Jewish people were not qualitatively different from the Egyptians (as the Midrash states the Angels said "these (the Egyptians) and these (the Jews) are both idol worshipers"). Once the Jewish people traveled and developed themselves into a great nation, then Hashem's choice became clear. This is what the verse teaches when it says "Their goings out"- the fact that Hashem chose and took them out of Egypt, became clear when they went "to their journeys"-only after their forty year sojourn.
However the Jewish people related to their travels as opportunities to grow and develop their latent potential. They understood the different sites Hashem chose for them ("their journeys") were opportunities for personal and national development ("their goings out") that is, bringing out what was inside of them.
These two approaches to the overview of their wanderings seem to take two very different approaches, the first a more negative view of the Jewish people's historical performance while the second seems much more praiseworthy.
I would like to suggest that possibly they are two halves of the same coin. While we were actually wandering through the desert it was difficult to maintain a healthy prospective and, unfortunately, complaining became somewhat of the norm. However as we finished our forty years and were able to reflect on our accomplishments and triumphs, we understood that all of the difficulties we went through were truly for our good. According to my suggestion, Rabbi Hirsch is relating to the process of wandering while the Rabbi from Ishbitz is discussing the goal and benefits.
Each one of us has his or her unique travels. On whatever road we find ourselves, this is determined by Hashem and meant for our growth. The traveling is sometimes taxing and we can lose sight that "The Divine Guide" is taking us where we need to go. Often, after we finish a certain segment of our travels, we can appreciate the lessons learned and the wisdom of "The Guide".
May Hashem open our eyes to realize that our travels through life are not random and they are guided by Him and Him alone. And may we also have the wisdom to learn the lessons He is lovingly imparting to us.

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