The Torah names all 42 encampments of Bnei Yisrael on their 40-year journey from the Exodus until the crossing of the Jordan River into Eretz Yisrael. G-d commands Bnei Yisrael to drive out the Canaanites from Eretz Yisrael and to demolish every vestige of their idolatry. Bnei Yisrael are warned that if they fail to rid the land completely of the Canaanites, those who remain will be "pins in their eyes and thorns in their sides." The boundaries of the Land of Israel are defined, and the tribes are commanded to set aside 48 cities for the levi'im, who do not receive a regular portion in the division of the Land. Cities of refuge are to be established: Someone who murders unintentionally may flee there. The daughters of Tzelafchad marry members of their tribe so that their inheritance will stay in their own tribe. Thus ends the Book of Bamidbar/Numbers, the fourth of the Books of the Torah.
“These are the journeys of the Children of Yisrael” (33:1)
Can you remember what you did on a certain Tuesday, five years ago? How about a particular day last year? How about last month?
When our lives follow a routine it becomes very difficult to separate one day from the next. The past seems to spread back behind us like an almost endless gray carpet. Here and there, however, landmarks protrude above the humdrum scenery. A marriage, a birth, a death, a golden wedding. The same is true when we travel. We remember clearly the five minutes we spent at Niagara Falls as though it was yesterday even though it happened ten years ago. We still smell the rain of a tropical rainstorm on Fiji, the fumes of a childhood traffic-jam on the way to Bognor Regis. Travel makes time significant and memorable.
We talk of life being a journey. The essence of life is to journey, to move, to develop. When G-d appeared to Avraham Avinu and told him that he would be the progenitor of a holy nation, it was with the command “Go to yourself.” The essential journey is to the self. To develop the internal landscape of the soul. In order for Avraham to fulfill his potential and be the Father of the Jewish People he had to go, to journey. Maybe it was for this reason that G-d didn’t tell him his destination. For the destination was not the essence of the journey, rather the journey itself, the process.
In this week’s portion, the Torah lists the 42 encampments of the Jewish People on their journey from Egypt to the Land of Israel. Every time they move camp the Torah repeats the phrase “They journeyed from...” Why was it necessary to repeat this phrase with every encampment? Obviously if they camped in a different place they must have journeyed to it from the place they left.
The journey of the Jewish people through the desert was a spiritual rite of passage between the fleshpots of Egypt and the Land that flowed with the milk and honey of holiness. It’s easier to take the Jew out of Egypt than Egypt out of the Jew. It took many separate spiritual journeys to impact on the collective spiritual psyche of the Jewish People and ready them to enter the Promised Land.