The name of our Parasha, Masei (“מַסְעֵי”) referring to travels and journeys, but it also spells the word “Yeamas” (“יעמס”) which in Hebrew means “heavy”, alluding to the hardship Bnei-Yisrael endured in the desert after leaving Egypt. Despite all the great miracles HaShem performed in Egypt, Bnei-Yisrael still defied HaShem and therefore were punished with heavy journeys. We experience similar “heavy journeys” in our lifetime as we still “travel” among the Goyim (gentiles) and do not have rest, meaning we still don’t have our Beit-HaMikdash rebuilt. But, Moshe writes the Musar (teachings) of each journey in order for us to learn from such travels. The four words “אֲשֶׁר יָצְאוּ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם” has a hidden message, alluding to our exile, by their first letters as they are (“אֲ- יָ- מ – מִ “). Alef alludes to Edom (Bavel), Yud alludes to Yavan (Greeks), Mem alludes to Moav (Roman), and Mem alluding to Mitzraim (Egypt) as these are the nations who caused Bnei-Yisrael to go to exile.
Moshe brought the heavens to Bnei-Yisrael, while Aharon maintained a possible earthly existence for Bnei-Yisrael, as the first verse says: אֵלֶּה מַסְעֵי בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, אֲשֶׁר יָצְאוּ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם—לְצִבְאֹתָם: בְּיַד-מֹשֶׁה, וְאַהֲרֹן, meaning these are the journeys Bnei-Yisrael took with the help of Moshe and Aharon along with the angels of HaShem. In the words “וְאֵלֶּה מַסְעֵיהֶם” (verse 33:2) we have the word “Ve’ele” (and these are), speaking of the journeys of Bnei-Yisrael. The numerical value of the word “Ve’ele” is 42, alluding to the number of stops Bnei-Yisrael made during their journey in the desert, as each journey brought them closer to understanding all of HaShem’s laws and Mitzvot before arriving at the Promised Land.
The Midrash says that six-hundred thousands of Bnei-Yisrael came out of Egypt and despite all their sufferings in the desert for forty years, when they are about to enter the Promised Land, Bnei-Yisrael has the same number as when they left Egypt. This is all thanks to Moshe and Aharon as they led Bnei-Yisrael throughout the wilderness, both the physical and the spiritual wilderness. We know that Yakov went down to Egypt with seventy people (including Yosef’s family) and after 210 years they came out with millions of people. The six-hundred thousands were only the men over twenty years of age, who were counted as soldiers to HaShem. Logically it is impossible to have so many people come out form only seventy people, in the course of only 210 years, which are maybe six or seven generations. We see here the great miracles as HaShem promised our Forefathers, to have the people of Israel numerated as the stars. The harder the Egyptian worked Bnei-Yisrael, the more they multiplied, as it says “Ve-ka’asher yeanu oto ken yirbeh” (“וכאשר יענו אותו כן ירבה”).
Moshe wrote the Torah according to HaShem’s will, transcribing all the forty-two journeys and their profound lessons. Moshe described each journey and its starting point, in order to teach the new generation all the lessons that they must learn from. Moshe wrote it all on the fifteen of Nissan, in the year 2448. Our Sages say that Moshe recorded these journeys in order to show HaShem’s kindness, in order to show Bnei-Yisrael that they traveled in order to merit many great rewards. Regardless of their sufferings and punishments, Bnei-Yisrael still merited amazing rewards from HaShem, including:
- Redemption from Egypt
- Promised Land
There were many more miracles performed by HaShem throughout Bnei-Yisrael’s travels from Egypt to Eretz Yisrael. We notice that there were forty-two encampments in total, fourteen of them occurred in the first year after the exodus. Originally Bnei-Yisrael were supposed to enter Israel the land of within the first year (11 month to be exact) but since the spies sinned, Bnei-Yisrael were punished with forty years in the desert. In the last year of Aharon’s life Bnei-Yisrael traveled eight journeys, all in the fortieth year.
The Torah lists the 42 Masa’ot (places at which Bnei-Yisrael camped) in the desert. These uninhabitable locations lacking water and plant life show that HaShem miraculously led millions of people for forty years through the desert, providing them with all their needs and much more (according to the Ramban). HaShem caused Bnei-Yisrael to camp in certain places in order to cure spiritual and moral illnesses caused by being in Egypt for 210 years. At Kadeish Bnei-Yisrael encamped the longest, for nineteen years.
The Torah writes that Aharon died on the first day of Av, in order to teach us of his great merit. Each year on Tisha B’Av, about 15,000 people died due to the spies sin, but after Aharon’s death in the 40th year, no one died on Tisha B’Av, since a Tzadik’s (righteous) death atones for Bnei-Yisrael’s sins (according to Eicha Raba). In Shir HaShirim (2:2) it says “Lily under the thorns” (“כשושנה בין החוחים”). Nowadays, with our earthly understanding, we translate Lily as a rose. In Shir HaShirim (6:2) it says “Dodi yarad l’gano”. HaShem Has decended, so to speak, from his infinite abode to the finite garden to be with Bnei-Yisrael. Sometimes HaShem descend to his garden to pick one single “rose”, a Tzadik, in order to atone for the rest of Bnei-Yisrael.
Rabbeinu Nissim explains: The sin which angers HaShem the most is the sin of idolatry. The risk of committing that sin is far greater outside of Eretz Yisrael than inside the Promised Land. The reason for this is that Hashem does not directly guide the affairs of the Diaspora (galut/exile), as He does with the affairs of Eretz Yisrael. Rather, HaShem has placed the lands of the Diaspora under the control of His angles, and man is known to mistake those agents [whether one calls them Angels, constellations, the zodiac, or nature] for deities. In fact, the Rambam explains that that is how idolatry started in the first place. The fact that Hashem remains aloof from the affairs of the Diaspora is the reason, according to Rabbeinu Nissim.
Our Rabbis taught: One should always live in the Land of Israel, even in a town where most of its inhabitants are idolaters, but let no one live outside the Land, even in a town where most of its inhabitants are Israelites; for whoever lives in the Land of Israel may be considered to have a God, but whoever lives outside the Land may be regarded as one who has no God. For it is said in our Torah: to give you the Land of Canaan, to be your God. Has he, then, who does not live in the Land, no God? But [this is what the text intended] to tell you, that whoever lives outside the Land of Israel may be regarded as one who worships idols.
In Pirkei Avot it says: Moshe received the Torah from Sinai and transmitted it to Joshua; Joshua to the elders; the elders to the prophets; and the prophets handed it down to the men of the Great Assembly. They said three things: Be deliberate in judgment, raise many disciples, and make a fence around the Torah. Our Sages’ teachings provided a clear understanding of our Torah Laws. Since Moshe received the whole Torah on Mount Sinai forty-nine days after leaving Egypt, how come he didn’t prevent Bnei-Yisrael from all their sufferings, assuming he knew everything upfront? On Shavuot, after forty-nine days, Moshe received only the Ten Commandment, not the whole Torah, as he was writing it as time went on. It is interesting to notice that throughout the written and oral Torah, the names of our seventy elderly are not exactly documented. This is in order to maintain their safety and the continuation of Torah teachings throughout the generations. The number of the elderly who also comprise the Sanhedrin is seventy in total, and the word “Sod” (“סוד” – secret) in Hebrew has the same numeric value of seventy.
Most of the 613 Mitzvot can only be fulfilled in Eretz Israel, and Moshe taught Bnei-Yisrael all the Mitzvot in the written and oral Torah throughout the forty years in the desert. Today we are unable to perform many of the Mitzvot as they are part of Beit-HaMikdash, which unfortunately we do not have. The Midrash says that throughout the forty years in the desert Bnei-Yisrael didn’t have to shower and their cloths grew with them. HaShem provided millions with all their needs in the desert; He provided existence in inhabitable spaces.