Thoughts on Masei

The journey or its conclusion, which is most important? There is not an either-or answer but, as with many other questions in life, it is gam v’gam, this and also this– as both the journey and the destination (or goal) are important, both are necessary, and to overly focus on one or the other leads to potential harm. 

A number of years ago, I remember my wife being told that she should say she was younger that she actually was, as if growing older were something one could avoid with mere words. Her response, however, was quite thought provoking. She asked the person, which year or years of her life she should deny? In reality she could not deny any year, as each year was a part of the journey that brought her to the place she was and who she was at that time. To deny even a day, or a month, or a year because it wasn’t the most enjoyable or because it was most undesirable, would put a tear in the tapestry of her life. Each step of the journey, the high points and the low points, the times of obedience and the times of disobedience and its consequences, work together making us the individuals we are today. 

We see this concept of recognizing and including each step of the journey in this week’s Torah portion, Masei or Journeys, Numbers 31:1 – 36:13, * Rashi conveys to us a comment by Rabbi Moshe HaDarshan: 

Of the forty-two journeys recorded in this register, fourteen – from Rameses to Ritmah – precede the sending of the spies, and eight from Mount Hor to the wastelands of Mo’av – were [undertaken] during the fortieth year, after the death of Aharon. This means that there were only twenty journeys during the thirty-eight years of wandering. Thus, God in His mercy mitigated the decree of wandering in the wilderness. They were not forced to wander interminably, without resting, for the average duration of their stay at each stopover was nearly two years.

Hirsch, Samson Raphael. The Hirsch Chumash, The Five Books of the Torah: Sefer Bemidbar. Jerusalem: Feldheim Publishers, 2007, p. 657

The thirty-eight years of wandering were a consequence of Israel’s unfaithfulness in regard to the spies’ bad report, (Numbers 14:20-23), but even in the wandering, Hashem took care of His people, (Deuteronomy 29:4). And in the wandering, a time of divine discipline, there were times of rest and of respite. Hashem never ceased to care and provide for His chosen ones, even when He had to correct them.

It is said that another reason for marking the journey and the individual stops is that each stop was to serve as mnemonic device, reminding Israel both of their victories as well as the times when their disobedience or unfaithfulness brought about disciplinary actions. Rav Shaul wrote to the believers in Corinth, 

Now these things happened as examples for us, so we wouldn’t crave evil things, just as they did.Do not be idolaters, as some of them were. As it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.”And let’s not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day 23,000 fell.And let’s not test the Lord, as some of them did—and were destroyed by serpents.And let’s not grumble, as some of them did—and were destroyed by the destroying angel. (1 Corinthians 10:6-10)

George Santayana, philosopher, essayist, poet and novelist said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Santayana#cite_note-3

In looking for Santayana’s quotation, I discovered another gem, this one by Vironika Tugaleva, from The Art of Talking to Yourself

“One thing is for sure—you will make mistakes. Learn to learn from them. Learn to forgive yourself. Learn to laugh when everything falls apart because, sometimes, it will.”

https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/learning-from-mistakes

In this, I am not sure which is the more difficult, to learn from our mistakes, to learn to laugh at our mistakes or to learn to forgive ourselves for making the mistake in the first place. 

Finally, think about the need to remember the past and learn from it. Abraham J. Twerski, Hasidic rabbi and psychiatrist, commented on Masei, 

Many tzaddikim did an accounting every night to see what they had accomplished during that day, and to correct wherever deficiencies they discovered. 

So it was with Moses at the end of the forty years in the desert. The Israelites were about to enter the Holy Land, and he was about to turn over leadership to Joshua. The period of his stewardship had come to a close. It was time to see what he and the Israelites had achieved during the past forty years, hence the meticulous review of the journeys and encampments and what had transpired in each.

If we are serious about achieving a goal in our lives, we must periodically take inventory. Each night, each week, at the beginning of a new year, and perhaps on our birthdays as well. A segment of time has passed. What do we have to show for it? How can we make the next segment more productive?

Twerski, Abraham J. Twerski on Chumash. Brooklyn: Shaar Press, 2003, p. 349.

As Israel journeyed to the Promised Land, we too are on a journey to a promised goal. Like Israel we need to keep our eyes not only on where we are going but also on where we have been and how we got to where we are today, remembering that each victory as well as each detour has been used by the Creator to bring us to where we are today and to lead us on to our eventual goal in the Olam Haba, the World to Come. 

As we journey together, Shabbat Shalom!


* Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures are from the Tree of Life(TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.

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