MASEI (Numbers, 33:1-36-13) — “The Long and Winding Road”

“The Long and Winding Road

 This week’s Torah Portion is, in a sense, the final portion of the Torah.  Next week we will begin the Book of Deuteronomy, much of which is a review of the rest of the Torah.  In fact, Deuteronomy is often referred to as Mishneh TorahReview of the Torah.

Rabbi Avraham Saba wrote in his book Tzror Hamor that there is great significance in the information that G-d chose to write in the conclusion of His Torah.

These are the journeys of the children of Israel who had left Egypt…Moses recorded their stops along the way at G-d’s command.  These were the stops along the way…   Numbers, 33:1, 2)

The Torah goes on to list the forty-two stops that the Israelites made over the forty years that they traveled through the desert.  Many of the verses simply state that:  They left _______ and they camped in ______; they left _______ and they camped in ______.

There are various suggestions made by the Commentaries as to why the Torah writes such apparently superfluous information.  I even offered one of my own.  (See “One Small Step for a Man…”)

The Tzror Hamor points out the implication not only of the description of their travels, but also the point that Moses listed them  ” …at G-d’s command.”

There are many things in the Torah that we don’t understand.  Sometimes they don’t seem necessary.  Sometimes they don’t seem logical.  G-d concluded His Book with an apparently unimportant itinerary.  But what does He tell us about WHY He told us the itinerary?  Moses recorded their stops along the way at G-d’s command.  The idea is to show us that every word in the Torah was written at G-d’s command.

Moses didn’t make anything up.  Every word, every letter, every jot and tittle is there for a reason.  Sometimes it is there to teach us a law or a concept that we wouldn’t otherwise know.  The Tzror Hamor tells us that this is about G-d’s name.

G-d has several names.  Each of these names has special meaning and significance.  One name literally translates as “Judge.”  Another means “Almighty.”  Another means “My Master.”  Another refers to the fact that G-d has patience with His children when they sin, and that he rewards those who follow His commandments.

The Tzror Hamor writes that seven of G-d’s names, each one pertaining to one of the days of the week, are alluded to in the very beginning of Genesis.  (One of those names, which translates as “Tear apart the Satan” refers to Monday, the day of Creation when G-d created Gehinnom, often inaccurately translated as “Hell.”) Collectively these seven names, each of which consists of six letters, form a 42-letter name of G-d.

Why does the Torah end with a SEEMINGLY unnecessary list of 42 stops that Israel made on their journey through the desert?  They are, suggests the Tzror Hamor, a reference to the 42-letter name of G-d.  Thus, the Torah begins Genesis with that name of G-d, and ends with that name of  G-d.  As a result, the Tzror Hamor rules that when this week’s Torah Portion is read, all 42 stops should be read together, without interruption.

(This, by the way, is unlike the custom in most synagogues, where some of the stops are read when the first person is called to the Torah, and some are read when the second person is called.  The Tzror Hamor rules that they should all be read together by the first person. [See Mogen Avraham 428:8 and Mishnah Berurah 428:21])

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Why does the Tzror Hamor feel that it is so important that we not break up this symbolic reading of G-d’s name?  I’d like to suggest an explanation.

The Torah is a continuum.  It is a complete package.  We can’t take some parts, as “our portion,” and ignore other parts as someone else’s.  Some of it we understand, at least on a superficial level.  Some of it we were never meant to be able to fathom.  But it is all G-d’s Torah.  All of the stops we make on the journey through life should reflect the uninterrupted commitment to G-d.

There is one G-d.  He has a lot of names, and a lot of “jobs.”  But there is one, single unified, yet multi-faceted G-d.  The G-d who created the world is the G-d who runs the world.  The G-d who said “Let there be light” is the G-d who provided a pillar of fire that lit up the night and led our ancestors through the desert.  The G-d who released us from Egyptian slavery is the same G-d who gave us Mitzvahs that we don’t always understand.  The G-d who allowed our enemies to destroy our Temples and persecute our nation is the same G-d who will bring the ultimate salvation, send the Messiah, rebuild the Temple, and bring world peace.

Let us pray that our long and winding journey through the long and painful Exile will soon be over.

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

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From the Archives

Some years the two Torah Portions of Matos and Massei are read together, and some years they are read on two separate Sabbaths.  For your convenience, here are links to both Portions:

FIRST PORTION – MATOS

“The Pope and the Designated Hitter” (2007) 

(This article appeared, in abbreviated form, as an op/ed in the Jewish Press.  The article went on to be misquoted in several languages in Catholic Blogs and websites all over the world.  Lots of Catholics now love me and agree with me, and some despise me; and both groups do so for the same reason – because they have totally misinterpreted what I wrote!!  🙂)

Oh, man, are they ever angry!…

I don’t require my Christian neighbor to respect my religious beliefs.  His beliefs are his business; my beliefs are mine…Don’t worry about my soul… we’ll worry about our own souls, thank you…

The Pope believes I am wrong.  If he didn’t, he wouldn’t be much of a Catholic.  And that’s okay.  He can believe whatever he wants.  He just happens to be wrong…

Read more.

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“The Silverware Garden” (2005) 

One of the more common misconceptions in Kosher Law that I come across is the notion that I like to call “the  Silverware Garden.”  I can’t tell you how many people have told me that they recall in their youth observing their mothers or grandmothers taking spoons, forks, and knives that had become non-Kosher and sticking them in the ground for a few days to make them Kosher.  There appears to be some mystical power of the earth to draw the non-Kosher status out of the utensils.  The truth is that this practice demonstrates a total misunderstanding of the process of Koshering vessels…

Read more.

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“First Things First!” (2003)

The Tribes of Reuben and Gad were wealthy.  They owned larger flocks of livestock than the other tribes.  They needed a place to graze those flocks.  That place was the East Bank of the Jordan River.

The two tribes asked Moses to allow them to inherit the East Bank…

A win/win situation.  Reuben/Gad get grazing land for their flocks.  The other tribes get to divide the  Land of  Israel ten ways, rather than twelve.

Moses, however, was not impressed…

Read more.

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SECOND PORTION – MASSEI

 “The Language of G-d” (2010)

Our Sages make a very surprising comment on this event.   “G-d said to Moses, ‘Do Me a favor, and tell Aaron … because I am embarrassed to tell him.”

This statement obviously requires explanation.  What could cause G-d to refer to Himself as “embarrassed”, and how would that embarrassment be prevented through Moses’ intercession?…

Read more.

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“Hey! Ya Never Know!” (2004)

… Joshua needed to get to the bottom of this.  All he knew was that SOMEONE had violated the ban; he needed to find out who the criminal was … Achan did not cooperate in the interrogation.  “Are you accusing me based upon a LOTTERY?  Is this how you search for criminals?  By coincidence?!  Why don’t you try drawing lots between yourself and Elazar the High Priest?  One of YOU will come out guilty!

Achan seems to have had a good point.  It appears that Joshua himself wasn’t sure…

Read more.

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“One Small Step for a Man…” (2002)

…I once heard movie critic Michael Medved asked on the radio how he maintains a spiritual life, in spite of his exposure to some of the non-spiritual (to be kind) elements of the world of “entertainment.”  Mr. Medved responded that …

There is something else Mr. Medved does to maintain a holier way of life.  He does it by keeping the spiritual level of his home on a higher plane than the average home.  He doesn’t…

Read more.

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“Say a Little Prayer for Me” (2001)

…How long a sentence did one serve for manslaughter?  That was dependent upon a factor that had no apparent relationship to the criminal or the crime:

He must dwell in the city of refuge until the death of the Kohain Gadol (High Priest).  After the death of the Kohain Gadol, the killer may return to the land of his possession.

WHY ARE WE PICKING ON THE HIGH PRIEST?  How do you think it made the Kohain Gadol feel to know that several convicts were eagerly anticipating his demise? …What did HE do wrong?

… in one respect, he WAS at fault…

Read more.

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This is the weekly message at www.torahtalk.org.   Copyright © 2000-2011 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (www.Brisrabbi.com) and chaplain in  Monsey,New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.

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Published on July 28, 2011 at 5:48 pm  Comments (1)  

One CommentLeave a comment

  1. 42 is also the number of the Irim haMiklat that were not mentioned directly in Torah K’sav. Do you know of any connection to the 42 way stations mentioned here?


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