Parshas Masay: A Distancing From The Dark Past & A Journey Towards The Bright Future

In Parshas Masay the Torah lists the various points at which the Jewish people stopped during their wanderings in the desert. The Torah introduces this list of locations as follows:

Numbers 33:2:

וַיִּכְתֹּב מֹשֶׁה אֶת־מוֹצָאֵיהֶם לְמַסְעֵיהֶם עַל־פִּי יְהוָה וְאֵלֶּה מַסְעֵיהֶם לְמוֹצָאֵיהֶם׃

Moses recorded the decampments/starting points for their journeys as directed by the LORD. Their journeys, for their decampment/starting points, were as follows:

Many commentators chime in to comment on the mirrored language of the posuk. The first half of the verse has “the decampments/starting points for their journeys,” while the second half of the verse reverses this language and uses the language of “their journeys, for their decampments/starting points.” R. Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, for one, explains this switch of language in a fascinating way. According to R. Hirsch, the change in language reflects the difference in perspective between God and the Jewish people in the desert.

The various encampments were always at God’s command, and whenever God instructed the people to move on to a new location it was always so as to attain some new goal. God would then specify a specific location at which this new goal and level could be attained. For God, each “decampment” was for the purpose of the “journey.” Thus, the verse begins with “מוֹצָאֵיהֶם לְמַסְעֵיהֶם,” or “the decampments for their journeys.”

For the Jewish people, however, things were precisely the opposite. Wherever they set up camp they were perpetually dissatisfied. When the time finally came for them to leave, as instructed by God, the decampment was in and of itself the purpose of leaving. It mattered not to where, exactly, they were to be heading. The Jewish nation journeyed forth simply in order to leave their current place of encampment. Thus, the verse concludes in the perspective of the people with “מַסְעֵיהֶם לְמוֹצָאֵיהֶם,” or “their journeys for their decampment.”

Of course, in reality, both of these perspectives are necessary, and thus their dual inclusion in the verse at hand. R. Dovid Hofstedter (Dorash Dovid p.238) brings up the posuk from Tehillim (34:15) “סוּר מֵרָע וַעֲשֵׂה־טוֹב” to explain our posuk quoted above. One must distance himself from evil and do good. Simply doing either/or is not enough. Indeed, the sojourn of the Jewish people through the desert for forty years was both a distancing and decampment from the evils of Egypt, and a journey towards the good of God’s Torah and land of Israel. Each decampment and subsequent encampment acted as both a distancing from the dark past, and a journey towards the bright future.

Rome, of course, was not built in a day, as the popular saying goes. Real success is not achieved overnight. If the Jewish people of the midbar — people that witnessed the Divine presence on a daily basis — required carefully planned steps to achieve the spiritual level required to enter the land of Israel, how much more so do we all living today require the same thing. One should not expect to instantly be his or her perfect self just by so willing. Rather, the lesson to be learned from our posuk is that success requires a slow and steady, step-by-step progression through a carefully pre-considered plan. Everyone has something he or she would like to be better about. If we can create a long-term plan to achieve our goals, and follow the small, short-term steps to get there, just about anything is possible — even a change as drastic as leaving the depths of Egypt to attain the heights of the land of Israel.

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