A Taste of Torah in Honor of Shabbat
by Rabbi Avi Weiss
2 Av 5758/July 24-25, 1998
Why does the Torah spend an entire chapter outlining all of the Israelite's encampments in
the desert? (Numbers chapter 33) The classical approach is to see within this
listing God's love for the Jewish people and our love for God.
Rashi, quoting the Midrash insists it
is the former (God showing His love for the Jewish People). "It can be compared
to a king whose son was ill and whom he took to a distant place to cure. As... they
returned the king would recount to the lad all the experiences they went through...
'Here we slept, here we had a cool resting place, here you had a headache.'"
Hence these places are enumerated to teach -- just as a parent cares endlessly for
his/her child, so did God lovingly carry His children through the most difficult moments
in our migration through the desert.
Sforno sees the mentioning of these
places as revealing the Jewish Nation's love of God. In his words: "He (Moses
as per God's instructions) wrote down...the details of their journeys because it involved
leaving for a new destination without any previous notice, which was very trying."
Jeremiah recalls God's expression of love for Israel who, despite all odds,
followed Him into the wilderness. (Jeremiah 2:2)
When considering that the Jewish Nation
was just days before coming to Israel, another approach comes to mind. When taking
any major step in life -- certainly entering into Israel constituted such a step -- it is
a good idea to carefully re-evaluate one's past. The listing of each halting place
was an attempt to remind the nation of these historical events. It allowed for a
moment of serious individual and national accountability.
No doubt some of these places evoked memories of the Jewish People's rebellion and even
betrayal of God. Rather than avoid recalling those more difficult moments, it is
preferable they be remembered with the goal of learning from those mistakes and turning
them into a positive learning experience.
And, bearing in mind that Am Yisrael
was assuredly overwhelmed with enthusiasm, believing that the liberation of the Land of
Israel would come in an instant, it was important that we be reminded that accomplishments
come in small steps, much like the Jews' gradual travel through the desert.
Hence the Torah elaborates for an
entire chapter on our journey. It teaches invaluable lessons for life: The
importance of self-reckoning, the importance of changing misfortune into fortune, and the
importance of realizing that improvement which is lasting comes slowly rather than
Taste of Torah
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Rabbi Avi Weiss, Hebrew Institute of Riverdale
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