Written by: Rabbi Avrohom S. Moller
These Are the Stations of the Jewish People
This week’s second parsha, Massei, begins with a listing of the 42 places that the Jewish people camped in during the journey from Egypt to Eretz Yisroel. It begins with Raamses in Egypt and ends with the encampment on the plains of Moav overlooking Jericho. What is the purpose of this listing? Rashi gives the explanation that it is a retrospective reflection on all of the travails that our people endured during the stay in the desert and that in spite of those difficulties, Hashem stayed with us and pulled us through.
As a people, we have endured much travail and barely survived many of them. Our survival is a testimony to G-d’s covenant with His chosen people and the tenacity of the Jewish spirit. The challenges to our existence and our eventual triumph over these challenges are not the entire purpose of these difficulties. When Hashem places his people in any setting, it has many positive outcomes for us as a people. Every station that we have been placed in has provided us with opportunities to learn about ourselves and to integrate new abilities into our national character. An example of this is the Spanish period where we developed the field of Jewish philosophy, poetry and Hebrew grammar. Sure, there were grave threats to our spiritual and physical safety, and it didn’t end well for us, but we did gain these important competencies because of our 500 year stay there. This is true for individuals as well. Every community we live in and every relationship we have polishes us and adds to our competencies.
Parshas Massei is read during the three weeks of mourning for the Churban, the destruction of the Bais HaMikdash. We are sad for the loss of our national pride, the dispersion of our people, our alienation from Hashem and the manifestations of his closeness to us. At the same time, we should reflect on how far we have come, the areas we have developed, and the strengths we have gathered during our long exile. This will give us comfort and a feeling of purpose for what we have endured as a people.