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Parshas Matos - Masei
Remember Your JourneysThese are the journeys of the people of Israel, which went forth out of the land of Egypt with their armies under the hand of Moses and Aaron. (Bemidbar 33:1)
Based on Oznaim LeTorah by R. Zalman Sorortzkin, cited in Lekach Tov.
The Torah lists the 42 journeys of the Bnei Yisroel during the 40 years in the Midbar. What was Moshe Rabbeinu's purpose in elaborating in such detail all the different encampments of the people of Yisroel in the desert?
One cannot take on the Torah with its 613 commandments and prohibitions merely by listening; nor by a simple acceptance of mitzvos and Torah study. The purpose of the Torah is to elevate the person to a level of spirituality and control over the animal lusts within. This entails ripping out a part of himself which is quite a demanding task.
The difficulty of accepting the yoke of the Torah can be discerned on several levels. One raised within a Torah environment from birth does not suffer the hardships of one who entered later in life. A baal teshuva has already tasted the other side and so will have to struggle to change his bad habits and life style and devote himself to a Torah way of life. But this still doesn't compare to the difficulties that stood before the generation that received the Torah. When a non-Jew converts to Judaism, at least he joins a community of Torah observant Jews who serve as a model to learn from. But Klal Yisroel faced an even more formidable task. Here was an entire nation entering the sanctity of the Torah with absolutely no prototype. There was no Torah observant community within which they could be assimilated and observe a Torah lifestyle. They had to start from scratch.
This extraordinary situation created the need to slowly guide them as they acclimated themselves to a life committed to Torah and Mitzvos. Thus they were granted the experience of a miraculous Hashgacha Pratis. It wasn't enough to merely instill in them belief in reward and punishment; they could not be simply taught that the Creator grants good to those who guard His commandments, and punishes those who transgress. A dry intellectual endeavor is too intangible; reward is given only in the Next World, and punishment is most often not administered immediately as Hashem patiently waits for the wicked to do teshuvah. Hashem wanted to give the first generation of Jews a live lesson in what it means to be the Chosen People. Thus He dealt with the generation who received the Torah in a super natural fashion by instruction from especially holy individuals and using very obvious examples of reward and punishment which would train and habituate them to a life of fulfilling the mitzvos of the Torah. And this is exactly what happened. No sooner did the Bnei Yisroel say, "Is Hashem within our midst or not?" then "and Amalek came." When they mourned over their physical situation, they were immediately struck by fire. When they experienced an intense craving, they were buried in the "graves of passion." They spoke evil of the Land of Israel, they died in a plague. They believed the evil tidings regarding the Land, they died in the desert, etc. The Bnei Yisroel were now approaching the end of this era of miracles. In addition their great teacher, the Man of G-d, was about to pass on from this world. At this junction, Moshe Rabbeinu found it necessary to fortify their hearts in the belief in reward and punishment. To accomplish this he reminded them of their miraculous beginnings: everything that had happened to them in the wilderness, all the miracles and wonders that Hashem had done for them: the splitting of the sea, the mann, Miriam's well, the giving of the Torah, the clouds of glory, etc. All this occurred when they had walked in Hashem's ways and guarded His mitzvos. In juxtaposition to this he reminded them of all the punishments they immediately suffered when they violated these commandments.
Along these lines, we find Moshe Rabbeinu repeating the Torah in Sefer Devorim together with words of encouragement to have emuna in reward and punishment. This was all in order to engrave the lessons on their hearts so strongly that the impression should remain intact even after they left the wilderness and entered the land of their inheritance.
All generations to follow lived within this new Divine Supervision within Nature. They would draw their inspiration for emuna from the vivid picture drawn for them of the miraculous era of the wilderness. Careful study of the travels and examination of the events that occurred there to Bnei Yisroel is packed with lessons of emuna in Hashem.
Wishing everyone a Gut Shabbos!
Rabbi Parkoff is author of "Chizuk!" and "Trust Me!" (Feldheim Publishers), and "Mission Possible!" (Israel Book Shop ? Lakewood).
If you would like to correspond with Rabbi Parkoff please contact him:
Yeshiva Shaare Chaim
Shema Yisrael Torah Network