This Shabbat we read two portions of the Torah, the two final readings in the book of Bamidbar/Numbers.
Given that fact, it is a challenge to keep the commentary to a reasonable length!
In the first portion, Mattot, there is extensive explanation on the subject of Vows. For this year, I will leave that to you to research and ponder. For our purposes, I am going directly to the second part of this week’s reading, the final words of Bamidbar.
Masei signals the end of the 40-year period during which the children of Israel wandered in the desert and so in this portion the history and dynamics of those forty years is reviewed. We believe that each event described for us in the Torah contains practical as well as spiritual instruction for every generation, including this re-counting of the forty year journey during which the children of Israel camped in 42 distinct locations.
Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsberg has taught that there is a magnificent correlation between the 42 places listed as stopping points for the children of Israel and the 42 times that the word “AHAVA” (love)
appears in the Torah. He further suggests that these 42 locations are symbolic of the life journey of every individual. Therefore, Rabbi Ginsburg says, we derive that every movement in the desert speaks to us of our personal journey through life and that just as each journey of Israel was directed by G-d and conducted under His loving protection and care, so, too, our individual life journeys unfold under the covering of His love as well, even though we may experience obstacles, failures, uncertainties and frustrations along the way. Understanding that every step we take in life, even the ones we regret, was nevertheless taken under the umbrella of G-d’s love for us, provides us with an incredibly significant sense of overall protection, albeit unseen, that is no less real than the Pillar of Cloud and the Pillar of Fire which Israel experienced in the desert.
It is that all encompassing Love of G-d that provides the framework within our lives for us to turn obstacles into opportunities for growth, failures and frustrations into spiritual successes, mistakes into mitzvot!
It is noteworthy that with the mention of each stopping place in the desert, we read the same phrasing: “They journeyed from…and they set up camp in…” Can you see the pattern implied here?
Our lifelong journey to spiritual maturity is a process of moving forward from one level of spirituality to the next, “camping” there for awhile until G-d calls us to move on to the next level of spirituality or, better said, the next level of intimacy with Him.
We derive yet another insight into this process from the numerical value (Gematria) of the Hebrew word, Masei, the title of this parsha. Masei in Gematria is equal to 180 which is ten times eighteen, the numerical value for the word “Chai” which is Life. In the system of Gematria, 10 x a number symbolizes the activation of a word or concept’s inherent potential. So in this context, the very word Masei is subtly telling us that life is a journey with multiple stopping points where we ‘camp’ to absorb the lessons which brought us to this point, and then move on from there to new and greater life lessons until the potential which G-d put in us becomes activated.
This is His desire for each of us and our part is to choose to learn and grow from everything we experience in life.
Like the children of Israel, we do not always perceive correctly what is happening in our lives. Sometimes we think we are making great progress in any area, only to discover later that we were just spinning our wheels and getting nowhere. At other times, it may seem to us that life is “not going well, not going according to our plan”, when in fact, it is precisely going according to G-d’s plan for our spiritual journey and during which we make the greatest personal progress.
It has been frequently said that the Jews appeared to wander aimlessly in the desert. Nothing could be further from the truth – for them as well as for us! We may at times feel that we take the proverbial “one step forward and two steps back”. However, when G-d later grants us perspective, we begin to see how He was working in ways we did not then understand to bring greater growth and blessing into our lives. Hindsight is such a wonderful teacher.
In Tune with Torah this week: Few things are more sad to see than an elderly person who is bitter and despondent over wasting years in fruitless pursuits. We have all made mistakes and taken wrong turns, but this Shabbat, we are urged to reflect not on our mistakes but on the goodness and all-encompassing love of G-d which has accompanied us every step of our life’s journey…and having pondered that LOVE, find a new depth of gratitude towards Him.