These are the journeys of the Children of Israel…Moshe wrote their goings forth according to their journeys. (33:1-2)
In this parsha, Moshe reviews the routes and encampments of the children of Israel throughout their years in the desert. What is the purpose for this comprehensive review at this point in the Torah?
Each time that Hashem told the Israelites to break camp, the purpose was always to reach a new place that would bring them closer to the ultimate goal: the land of Israel. Sadly, however, we note as we go through the Torah, that while Hashem’s intent was progress forward, the people often felt differently. They were frequently dissatisfied with where they were and instead of seeing the next move as forward progress, they simply wanted to wanted to move on out of unhappiness with where they were.
As Moshe begins to recount their travels, he pointedly says that he is reviewing their “goings forth” – their steps toward the goal Hashem gave them — to reach the Land of Promise. In other words, he is saying, Let me review for you the progress you have made because you haven’t truly grasped it. You simply look back and see wanderings from here to there, from one place of restlessness to another. But from Hashem’s viewpoint, you need to look back and see each move as progress towards His goal for you.
Now there’s a principle for all of us to ponder.
We look back over our own lives and with our limited insight, we sometimes feel that we have ‘wasted time’ in certain periods or ‘made mistakes’ in certain decisions. No doubt we have — BUT — we need to consider that even in those situations, if our lives are committed to Hashem, He is able to bring us step by step closer to fulfilling the purpose for our lives, even if we cannot see how it all fits together. Even our mistaken judgments or imperfect decisions can be tools in the hands of Hashem to cause our own “goings forth” in life.
Every person who has a goal in life will pause now and then to evaluate what he has accomplished and what yet needs to be done. We are encouraged by the example of many of our Sages who made it a practice each night to review their day before going to bed to assess how they had followed Hashem that day in thought, word and deed.
Before long, we will be entering the Hebrew month of Elul, an annual period of self-examination and repentance during which we prepare our hearts for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. But we do not need to wait for Elul in order to examine our own hearts and behaviors. In fact, we do well to make this a regular practice throughout the year.
So it is in this week’s reading with Moshe at the end of the forty years in the desert. The children of Israel are about to enter the Promised Land and he is about to hand over the mantle of leadership to Yehoshua (Joshua). His life mission is about to end and so is the pivotal period in the life of the Israelites known as the time in the desert.
What has been achieved? How are they different now than they were 40, 30, 20, even 10 years earlier? What have they learned? Apparently not enough, for Moshe painstakingly reviews those forty years to insure that the Israelites perceive all that Hashem has done FOR them and IN them to bring them to the goal of possessing the Land He created for them.
If we are serious about achieving a goal in our lives, we must periodically take inventory. In our quest to walk in the ways of Hashem, it is not enough to spiritually ‘drift’ through life, or simply perform the external obligations. We must go deeper. That is precisely why Moshe reviewed the forty years of experience with the Israelites.
In Tune with Torah this week = setting aside time this Shabbat for some serious reflection. Have we made progress in righteousness? Can we look back over the past month, the past year and see that we have improved in some area of our attitudes or behaviors? Has our personal relationship with Avinu Malkenu (our Father, our King) deepened within our soul so that what we do and say flows from our love and passion for Him far more than from simply a routine ritual or tradition? For ritual without relationship is not only hypocrisy, but profoundly displeasing to Hashem. In our soul searching this shabbat, I recommend we re-visit Isaiah 58 and ponder the words of the prophet.