Living Torah

By Rabbi Ari Enkin, rabbinic director, United with Israel

This week’s Torah portion demonstrates that in every difficult situation, one can be sure to find a measure of mercy and kindness from God.

This week’s Torah portion is Maasei (Numbers 33:1-36:13) and it concludes the Book of Numbers. The primary topics dealt with in this week’s reading is the Jewish people’s journey to the Promised Land. Indeed, we are told each and every place they encamped during the 40 years of wandering. We also learn about the cities of refuge and the story of the Tzelofchad’s daughters in this week’s reading.

The commentators ask why the Torah found it necessary to list all the places where the Jewish people encamped during their 40 years of wandering, one after the other, since all these places had already been listed. If one wanted to check the name of a place, some page flipping might be needed, but the information is already within reach! Why the paly-by-play listing?

Among the answers is that it was intended to display God’s kindness to Israel.

How so?

We know that after the episode of the spies, God decreed that the Jewish people would be forced to wander in the desert for 40 years instead of entering the Promised Land immediately, as originally planned. While one might think that these 40 years of wandering were a non-stop grueling trek, it is not so.

To better understand, some arithmetic is in order.

The Jewish people camped in 42 places during these 40 years. We know that 14 of these places were visited in the first year after leaving Egypt. We also know that eight places were visited in their last year of wandering, just before entering the Land of Israel. What this means—if you do the math—is that there were only 20 moves during the course of 38 years. As such, they spent close to two years in every place they camped.

So, there you see it. The punishment of having to “wander” in the desert for 40 years wasn’t as grueling as it sounds. It wasn’t a constant wandering. What we see is that even when God punishes, He does so with a measure of mercy. The Jewish people didn’t just wander, but they also rested, for significant periods of time. With God providing for all their needs: food, clothing, pleasant weather, and more, each of these stops was a very relaxing, rejuvenating and family-bonding experience. A mini-Club Med, if you will!

Indeed, if one were to visit each of the places where the Jewish people encamped today, one would find them to be parched and barren places, almost uninhabitable! This is another sign of God’s kindness! Even though He led them through “rough” places, He still provided for all their needs! This, even under “punishment” conditions! What a God!

There is certainly a message here for us. Maybe once and a while we should reflect on some of the challenges and hurdles that we’ve had in life and try to find the blessing and kindness inherent in them as well. In everything that God does, one can be sure to find a measure of mercy and kindness!