(It takes eleven days to go from Horeb to Kadesh Barnea by the Mount Seir road.) Deuteronomy 1:2
The Torah portion for this week is Davarim, which means "words," from Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22, and the Haftorah is from Isaiah 1:1-27.
A colleague of mine once remarked that the second verse in the book of Deuteronomy is the saddest verse in the entire Torah. The verse tells us: "It takes eleven days to go from Horeb to Kadesh Barnea by the Mount Seir road." What is this information doing here in the first place and what makes this verse so sad?
Let's begin with a brief look at the timeline of events from when the Israelites left Egypt until this very moment, 40 years later, as they were about to enter the Promised Land.
Just seven weeks after the Israelites had left Egypt, they were standing at the foot of Mt. Sinai, experiencing the revelation of God and the giving of the Torah. But as we all know, things didn't exactly go smoothly.
Moses was up on Mt. Sinai for 40 days, and returned with the Ten Commandments in hand only to witness the people worshiping a golden calf. Moses smashed the tablets, and it took another 80 days for Moses to gain forgiveness for the people and receive a second set of tablets. All in all, it was a two-and-a-half month delay in the travels, but then things got back on track.
The Israelites then spent about six months building the Tabernacle and learning how to serve God and worship Him. Shortly after that, the people began their journey toward the Promised Land. However, only three days later, they began complaining about the lack of meat and got stuck where they were for 30 days as God rained down quail upon them. Next, Miriam spoke out against Moses, which caused another seven-day delay. At this point, the Israelites could have continued traveling a few more days and could have made it to Canaan. Unfortunately, this is when the 10 spies brought back a negative report of the land and the people sinned by begging to return to Egypt. Consequently, the people had to wait 38 more years.
The people that Moses addressed at the beginning of Deuteronomy were an entirely new generation. The men who left Egypt had all died in the desert on account of the sin of the spies. Our verse teaches us that an 11-day journey to Canaan took over 38 years and resulted in a tremendous loss of life. And why? It all boiled down to a lack of faith in God.
Friends, this tragic verse in the Bible can be transformed into the most instructive verse in our own lives. How much do we get in our own way because we lack trust in God? How much of life are we missing out on because we are trapped in worry and complaints? Let's not waste a minute longer. Trust God, hold on tightly to your faith, and replace complaints with gratitude. That's the shortest path to our own great destiny.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President