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A 39 Year Delay?

07/28/2022 01:19:11 PM


This has been the summer of travel woes. After two years of no-one going anywhere, everyone tried to go everywhere all at once. It did not go well. Some contended with flight delays and cancellations. Others are still looking for their luggage, or gas at less than $4 a gallon. Summer camps that had managed with almost no COVID cases last summer were suddenly sending kids home left and right. How do we look back on the journeys (and detours) that we have traversed?

This week we read the double portion Mattot-Mas’ei, which concludes the book of Numbers. The second portion includes an enumeration of 42 stops that the Israelites made on their 40 year journey through the desert (just a 39 year delay!). In some cases, the text specifies what happened on that stop: a thirst for water or the death of Aaron. In other cases, we know from elsewhere in the Torah what transpired at that stop: the Israelites rebelling out of hunger, Miriam and Aaron slandering Moses, or the incident of the spies. However, for the most part, the text does not give any indication of what happened at the place or why it was significant.

Many commentators wonder why the Torah would provide this travelogue. In particular, so many of the locations were associated with negative events. Why harp on all the troubles and travails of the journey, the delays, the hunger, the complaining? Rashi, in his classic comment on the beginning of the portion, compares the story to that of a king who took his son on a long journey to be healed from a serious illness. When they returned, the father enumerated all of the stages, and the travails that they encountered.

One might say that there is no benefit from perseverating on the negatives of a past journey. And yet, appreciating the difficulties we met along the way can help us appreciate our arrival at the destination all the more. Whether we are still scratching our heads the travails of summer travel, or more abstracting reviewing the stations in the journey of our lives, it’s worth it if we have the gratitude that we had the chance to travel at all, and perhaps even appreciate we overcame to reach our respective destinations.

Fri, June 14 2024 8 Sivan 5784