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Shabbat Parashat Matot Masei 5772

Parashat Hashavuah: The End of the Journey

Harav Shaul Yisraeli - from Siach Shaul, pp. 463-4

This week we are finishing the reading of Bamidbar, the fourth sefer of the Chumash. It covers 40 years of Bnei Yisrael’s travels from the beginning of their existence. The last parasha, Masei, summarizes, in a somewhat dry manner, the 42 stops the nation made along the way.

The different individual details connect into a complete picture, which actually is a quite unique one. Ostensibly there are a lot of problems on the people’s part: episodes of ugly behavior, a lack of patience, and repeated complaints. However, if we look more deeply into the matter, the people actually underwent a “difficult schooling” during those years.  Moshe, the reliable “shepherd,” summarizes the period as follows: “You shall remember the entire path on which Hashem led you for these 40 years in the desert – in order to afflict you, in order to test you” (Devarim 8:2).

They had 40 years to work on life as an independent nation, while, on the other hand, they were far from having normal lives for a nation. They were without the benefit of being in an inhabited land, without a conventional roof over their heads, and even without normal bread. Everything was unnatural: bread from the sky, miraculous water. Even the plan of travel was totally inconsistent and unpredictable (see Bamidbar 9:22). It is not so surprising that there were episodes of dissatisfaction and weariness from the life on the road. It is hard to always keep the string stretched tight.

The Torah does not usually deal at length with praises of Bnei Yisrael. There is more of a focus on identifying that which needs to be fixed. However, it is possible to discern the strong points in Bnei Yisrael’s behavior from the evaluation of a man who is not to be suspected of having too much love for Bnei Yisrael, namely, Bilam. Through him we heard that the way our tents were arranged truly was praiseworthy, among other distinctions. The efforts were not for naught.

In the meantime, the generations had switched, as the pasuk says: “Amongst all of them, there was no one who had been counted by Moshe and Aharon …” (Bamidbar 26:64). The new generation was charged with the task of conquering and setting up a strong community in Eretz Yisrael. They conquered nations to the east of the Jordan and were poised on the other side of the Jordan River, ready to enter the Land.

However, this was also the time when they had to continue on without their great leader, Moshe. The end of the book discusses the final preparations he made for them: listing the boundaries of the Land, setting up the rules for inheriting it, setting down the imperative to get rid of the nations who served as a spiritual challenge, and teaching the mitzva to set up an unintentional murderer.

The parasha ends off with a characteristic idea: “You shall not defile the Land that you are sitting in, within which I dwell with, for I am Hashem who dwells within Bnei Yisrael” (Bamidbar 35:34). As Chazal say: “Even when they are defiled, Hashem is still amongst them” (Sifrei, Bamidbar 1). This is the nature of the nation and of the Land: the Divine Presence does not leave them. The hard work was indeed worth it for Bnei Yisrael to get to that point.  Chazak chazak v’nitchazek!

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