Friday, July 29, 2011

Parshat Massei - פרשת מסעי

"אלה מסעי בני ישראל, אשר יצאו מארץ מצרים לצבאתם, ביד משה ואהרן. - These are the journeys of the Children of Israel, who went forth from the land of Egypt by their legions under the hand of Moshe and Aharon."
(במדבר, לג:א)

This week's Parsha is the final installment of the book of Bamidbar. In it, we have read of the Jewish people's travails in the desert on their way to the Holy Land. Before going on to describe the land of Israel and appropriate it to the various tribes, Parshat Massei serves as a reminder of the numerous treks and journeys that the Jews completed on their way.

Rav Zalman Sorotzkin writes in Azanim LaTorah about Hashem's intention in compelling Am Yisrael to make these arduous, energy-sapping expeditions. Typically, the answer to this question is that because the people sought to return to Egypt after listening to the smears spread by the spies, they were "sentenced" to 40 years of exile in the wilderness. But this seems strange, though. First of all, weren't the Jews taken out of exile? What would the point be of taking them out of slavery in one place, only to have them broken in another? The real answer lies elsewhere.

Rashi's commentary gives us our first hint. Citing Rav Tanchuma, he explains that Hashem's actions vis-a-vis the Jewish people were akin to the act of a King sending his ill son far away so that the son can be cured. On the way back, the father counts his sons journeys. "Here we slept", "here we felt cold", "here you had a headache" and so on.

Still, this doesn't quite explain what the process of traveling was intended to do. If it wasn't simply a punishment, what was it? Rav Sorotzkin posits an answer: the generation who left Egypt were on the lowest spiritual level possible. For these people to suddenly become observant was very difficult. These people had lived a very unspiritual life and it wasn't possible for them to learn and adjust overnight. Hashem, therefore, devised a specific way of preparing them for life in Israel.

Normally, the process of reward and punishment is delayed. Reward is delayed so that we may enjoy it in the next world, where reward is eternal. Punishment, however, is typically suspended for a different reason - so that we may have a chance to mend our ways. But in the desert, the process was sped up. Open miracles occurred, as was the case with Miriam's well, the Clouds (and Fires) of Glory that accompanied the people on their way, and countless other amazing phenomena. And, in stark juxtaposition, punishment was much closer than usual, too. When the people sinned, they were not given much time, if at all, as the followers of Korach and the generation of the spies found out. All this contributed to a remarkable period in which Hashem personally trained the Jewish people for their new lives.

So these were the "Masa'ot" of the Jews. Less journeys or punishments than training missions, the served as the ultimate preparation. Later in the Parsha we read of how the land was to be divided between the tribes. Hopefully our generation too can find comfort that while we are going through many trials, we shall soon be able to live peacefully in this land once again.

(Sourced from the Yalkut Lekach Tov)

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom!

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