Journeys or Encampments? - מטות מסעי

Friday, 14 July, 2023 - 10:59 am

Journeys or Encampments? 

The final portion of the Book of Numbers begins with the recounting of the forty-two places where the Jewish people camped as they traveled from Egypt to the bank of the Jordan River: 

These are the journeys of the children of Israel who left the land of Egypt in their legions, under the charge of Moses and Aaron. (Numbers 33:1)

The Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chassidic movement, explains that these encampments are relevant to every Jew because each of us experiences these forty-two journeys throughout our lives, beginning with birth (when we leave the “Land of Egypt”) until one concludes one’s mission on this planet, at the figurative “bank of the Jordan River”, ready to enter the “supreme life in the supernal land”. The Baal Shen Tov goes on to explain that while, on the surface, some of the encampments represent negative experiences, in the spiritual life of a Jew, these events could play out in a positive sense. For example: 

Kivros HaTaavah {lit., “the graves of the craving”, the place where the people who craved meat were punished by a plague} is associated with the aspect of Chochmah {wisdom, enlightenment}, because “over there, they buried those with cravings.” Meaning, physical desires cease to exist for those who attain the attribute of Chochmah out of their intense embrace of G-d.

The Torah refers to the encampments as “Journeys” {“Masei”} as opposed to what they really are, namely “encampments” {“Chanayot”}, in order to emphasize a profound teaching. A Jew must always be in a state of “Journey”, never satisfied with their current spiritual state, always seeking to escape the confines of their own limitations. No matter what level or achievement one attains, if he is comfortable in that space, and is not motivated to progress from his present position, he is in a state of spiritual Egypt (“Mitzrayim” etymologically related to the word of limitation and straits).
Reading the list of journeys in the desert, and reflecting on our own personal life journey, we will inevitably see occasions of setback, negativity, and pain. The Torah helps us understand that these experiences, too, can become not encampments, places where our growth is stifled and held back, but rather part of the journey forward. The negative experience itself can become fuel for longing and love, propelling us to positivity and holiness. 

For indeed, every experience in our life, can and should become a part of our journey forward. 

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos 23 Masei 1 

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