Parshiyot Matos-Masei: The Perfect Journey

Jews in the desert (Wikimedia Commons)

If you ask most people, they’ll say that the worst part of any trip or vacation is the travel. From the break-of-dawn wakeup to the lengthy and boring flights, with an emphasis on the monotonous wait of exiting the plane, it seems to have almost no redeeming qualities. Essentially, there is a means and an end, the former which is the burden required to arrive at the desired latter. This frame of mind solely identifies results as what’s valuable — whether that be a destination, an accomplished feat, or a prize. However, in Parshiyot Matos-Masei, the Torah discusses a journey, the ultimate journey, which suggests otherwise.

The Torah prefaces, “These are the journeys of Bnei Yisroel who went out of Egypt in organized groups under the leadership of Moshe and Aharon” (Bamidbar 33:1). The following pesukim briefly list our chronicles throughout our time in the desert, awaiting our ultimate arrival to the Promised Land: Eretz Yisrael. In the same vein as previously mentioned, some would presume that Bnei Yisrael’s travels in the desert were less than ideal, to say the least, that their 40-year journey was a waste of time. This, however, was hardly the case.

Explaining the Zohar’s answer (2:157), the Or HaChaim offers a profound insight into the nature of Bnei Yisrael’s journey. He says that the entirety of their travels was meant to uncover the hidden sparks of divinity within the desert. These sparks, the Or HaChaim says, were “taken captive” and only Bnei Yisrael’s immense sanctity as a collective nation could successfully reveal them to the world.

On a simple level, we could force this idea into the mold of a standard means-end mindset; the only value to their journey was the ultimate discovery of the divine sparks, the end, and the 40-year “sentence” was the unfortunate means to do so. This perspective, however, would be lacking a central belief to a Jewish perspective on journeys.

Writing on the general topic of means and ends, Rav Kook says, “A wise person understands that each and every step has the profound effect of bringing one to a greater level of perfection. This person knows that the very journey of reaching perfection should be valued and treasured” (Ein Aya, Berachot 2:33).[1] The beauty of life is that every moment is an opportune time to pursue perfection, not in the unrealistic prospect of attaining perfection, but rather with a growth-oriented mindset. As this applies to Bnei Yisrael’s time in the desert, we can understand that, in actuality, those travels were ideal for growth. The dynamic perfection of growth Bnei Yisrael experienced was revealing more of Hashem’s presence in the world in the barren desert, the sparks of Divinity hidden throughout.

Setting our sights on promotions, perfect scores, or desired outcomes could mistakenly direct us to devalue the path toward them. If one was climbing up Mt. Everest, would they opt for a helicopter ride when they’re three-quarters of the way up? How about venturing on a hike, but skipping the hours of walking for the endpoint? Clearly, the entire experience would be undercut if we would accept the offers of those scenarios; this is the same for life. Every struggle, accomplishment, risk, worry, and push is an unparalleled element in the story of growth. The perfect journey is one where every step along the path is one to be marveled at.

[1] As translated by Rabbi Ari Ze’ev Schwartz in “The Spiritual Revolution of Rav Kook,” p. 55

About the Author
Sruli Fruchter studied for one year at Yeshivat Orayta and is now studying at Yeshiva University. He enjoys writing on a spectrum of topics, including the weekly parsha and the Palestinian-Israel conflict.
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