Parshat Matot-Masei

The Israelites Encamped at Mt. Sinai

Bamidbar 33:1
These are the journeys of the Children of Israel, who started out from the land of Egypt, troop by troop, in the charge of Moses and Aaron.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel
For many of us the march from Selma to Montgomery was about protest and prayers … Even without words, our march was worship. I felt my legs praying.

What kind of a journey is worship?

Bamidbar 33:2
Moses recorded the starting points of their various marches as directed by the LORD.

Midrash Tanchuma
The matter is comparable to a king whose son was ill. He brought him to a certain place to
heal him. When they returned, his father began recounting the stages: Here we slept. Here
we cooled off. Here you had a headache. Similarly the Holy One said to Moses: Recount to
them all the places where they provoked me. It is therefore stated, these are the stages.
What is the illness? How do the journeys cure the illness? Why is it necessary to retell the
story of the journeys – are they part of the healing process?

Rabbi Henach Leibowitz
In Hashem’s eyes, the most willfull transgressions are temporary illneses … Upon returning
from the trip, Hashem does command Moshe to recount these sins, because in His
overwhelming love for us, they are really only illnesses. … One of the prerequisites to
repentance is the knowledge that teshuvah does truly help to erase our sins from the
heavenly blotter; otherwise, we would succumb to a feeling of hopelessness and not even
try to mend our ways.

Rabbi Wolbe says that retelling a story in vivid detail enables us to visualize the events,
even if we have not experience it ourselves. Retelling the journey in the wilderness
enables us to also heal and find teshuvah.

The following passage from Rabbi Dessler has a rare melding of kabbalah and mussar. Rabbi Dessler is providing a kabbalistic explanation of the mussar journey.

Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler
The idea that an individual has holy sparks which are his particular duty to redeem means
that each person has his own alloted portion in kiddush Hashem [sanctifying God’s name by
being holy]. All his abilities, his middot, and the tests he has to undergo are suited to this
basic task. This task is assigned to him from Above, it constitutes his full spiritual potential,
which in some context is referred to as his neshama. In this sense, a person’s neshama is not
his ego, but – the particular ideal to which he should devote his life and the totality of
spiritual powers granted him to complete his task. He becomes aware of his potential
through the circumstances in which is he is placed and the tests he is given. Each test
challenges him to realize part of his spiritual potential, or in other words, releases one of his
holy sparks contained in his neshama.

He seems to be saying that our greatest flaws are the secret to discovering our purpose in
life. Those flaws (or sins) hide our potential, and in some sense feed off of them.
Rabbi Dessler goes on to warn that remorse that is too deep becomes an obstacle to
teshuvah, because a person may feel that they cannot repent and be forgiven. Why is
important to understand that overcoming one’s flaws are a vehicle for serving God?