Bamidbar 33:1-2 (Robert Alter)
These are the journeyings of the Israelites who came out of the land of Egypt by their battalions, in the hand of Moses and Aaron. And Moses wrote down their departure points for their journeyings by the word of the LORD, and these are their journeyings by their departure points.
Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
[the journey was] not a straight line that proceeds in a clear route. This is true in life as well: A person’s path is never smooth and straight … Their path is full of twists and turns, the route is unclear, and the direction is unknown.
All the journeys that appear in the parasha, like all of the Torah’s narratives, tell the story of the inner life of both the People of Israel as a nation and of each individual Jew.
we are in a wilderness … in exile.
This is our story, which we will be able to read and understand only at the end of time, when we reach the final station. Then we will receive the meaning of the map by which we have traveled, and this will enable us to explain our history and the events that have befallen us. … Only then will we comprehend the meaning and the content of all our experiences over the years.
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.
Rabbi Isaiah Horovitz, Shenei Luchot HaBerit
“These are the journeys of the children of Israel.” Journeys are comparable to exiles in that they afford a person atonement for his sins. … It is not by accident that all the Torah scholars of earlier generations left home, i.e. exiled themselves in order to study. The principle can be summarized as “leave home in order to study!” [Leave home to grow?]
Life can be only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.
All the characters and situations in Bamidbar represent moments in our lives and history. Thinking about your life, can you connect to times when …
You were Miriam finding water in the desert?
Grumpily wanting a dinner of cucumbers, leeks, and fish, that never existed?
Feeling like a grasshopper among giants?
When you were Joshua and Caleb, with a vision no one else sees? Or Korach, with a good idea, but selfish motives?
Bilaam, feeling dumber than his ass? Or his donkey struggling to get the boss to see the disaster ahead?
Moses trying to keep it all together?
The Daughters of Zelophehad bravely challenging power and culture?
Image: Dorothea Reinecke [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]