By Rabbi Chai Posner
The Torah portions of Matot and Masei bring the fourth book of the Torah, Bamidbar, to a close. Bamidbar, literally “in the desert,” discusses the travels of the Jewish people for 40 years in the desert. As the people come closer to actually entering the land of Israel, the Torah lists the places they stopped during those 40 years. In all, there are 42 stops mentioned. Why did the Torah choose to specifically list all of the places where they camped along their trip? Why is this important information for us? The commentaries offer several reasons. Let us take a brief look at three of the answers.
1. Given the fact that the nation had been punished and forced to wander in the desert for 40 years, we might think that they constantly traveled, with no stopping. As it turns out, if there were only 42 stops — 14 of which were in the first year (before they were punished), and eight during the last year — that means that there were only 20 stops during the remaining 38 years of their time in the desert.
2. This can be compared to a king who was forced to travel a long distance in order to heal his son. Upon their return trip, the king would point out each place that they stopped, lovingly recounting the trials they went through.
3. In the future, when people would challenge all of the miracles that God performed during our time in the desert, we would have a record to point to, which would help authenticate our experiences.
Each of these three answers gives us another perspective on recounting our own journeys in life. First, things are often not as bad as we tend to think they are/were. We might have guessed that the nation was forced to break camp hundreds of times, when in reality it was a lot less. Secondly, stops along the way take on a whole new meaning once we come to the end. While getting to the end is the goal, the journeys are important as well. And finally, our history — the history of the Jewish people — is long and rich and ever evolving. The stories we read may be incredibly miraculous, but they are also very much real. The message is clear: In your travels, in life, don’t forget the importance of the stops along the way!
Rabbi Chai Posner is a rabbi at Beth Tflioh Congregation.