Here are the stages in the journey of the Israelites when they came out of Egypt by divisions under the leadership of Moses and Aaron. — Numbers 33:1
The Torah portion for this week is a double reading, Matot-Massei, from Numbers 30:2–36:13. Matot means branches and Massei means journey. The Haftorah is from Jeremiah 2:4–28; 4:1–2.
You may have heard the following tongue-in-cheek joke: Why did the Israelites spend so many years wandering in the desert? Because even back then, men refused to ask for directions!
Funny or not, the fact is that the Israelites spent much longer than they needed to on their journey to the Promised Land. The trip could have taken them no longer than just a few days, yet the Bible informs us that it took them 40 years! God did not lead them directly; rather He led them on a roundabout route.
The second Torah portion that we read this week is called Massei, meaning “journeys,” and it is here that the Bible lists the stops that the Israelites made on their way – all 42 of them! The Israelites stayed in some of these places for years; others only for hours. What was the point of all these stops?
The Jewish sages explain that each place offered a unique challenge for the children of Israel. Each stop was an opportunity for spiritual growth. Each place provided them with the means of repairing a spiritual defect within their souls. Each stop on the journey made them more whole.
I once saw a diagram depicting success. On the top half of the paper was a diagonal arrow pointing upward, with the caption: “What people think success looks like.” The bottom half of the paper had the same arrow, except instead of pointing in a straight line, the line flew around the paper wildly, this way and that, backward and forward, until it eventually straightened out into an arrow pointing up. The caption underneath read: “What success actually looks like.”
The contrasting images capture a point about success that we often miss: Getting where we want to be isn’t always a smooth ride. Rather, more often than not, the road is bumpy with lots of twists and turns. But ultimately, all the detours and stops that we experience on our journey to success are what was needed to help us get there.
Sure, God could have taken the Israelites on a direct route to Israel. However, He deliberately took them out of the way, in loops and circles, as part of the process so that when they arrived, they would be ready to enter.
His hand moves our lives in the same way.
So when we feel distant from our goal or headed in the wrong direction, let’s remember to look around at where we are and at what lessons we have learned from each place we have been. We may not understand the paths that God leads us down, but we can have faith that He will lead us to where we need to be, in exactly the right way, at exactly the right time.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President