Dvar Torah Matos-Masei: Getting ready to graduate

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By Mati Hurwitz, Torah Editor

In this week’s double parsha, Matos-Masei, Bnei Yisrael is close to settling and entering Eretz Yisrael. The tribes Reuven and Gad request to settle east of the Jordan River and not to inhabit Eretz Yisrael. After Moshe grants their request, parshas Masei opens by listing all the various locations in which Bnei Yisrael traveled and camped in during their 38-year journey in the desert from Egypt. The passuk states, ‘Eyleh Masei Bnei Yisrael’ (33:1), these are the travels of Bnei Yisrael.  After this section of the Torah laws of accidental murder and cities of refuge are addressed. They haven’t finished their journey yet; they haven’t entered Israel yet. We know that there is still Sefer Devarim to come before we enter Israel in Sefer Yehoshua. Why then does the Torah place this large list of places Bnei Yisrael traveled to at this point in the Torah when the key goal hasn’t been fulfilled yet?

Various Rishonim answer this question similarly. Firstly, Rashi and Sforno say Hashem wanted to show Bnei Yisrael his kindness and also their having merited their eventual entrance to Israel; Rashi also says Hashem was kind and allowed them to rest and didn’t make them constantly travel non-stop. Rashbam adds that the list is mentioned here as a review to explain our travels and how we camped and to count them all up. Ibn Ezra writes that Moshe wrote all of their travels when they camped and settled in the plains of Moav on the banks of the Jordan River, and Bnei Yisael didn’t move from there for months after Aharon died.

Now that we understand the significance of the travels being listed, why were they listed at this point in the Torah before entering Israel? The answer we can draw from the Rishonim is the following. Firstly, perhaps the travels were listed here because Moshe would not enter Eretz Yisrael, therefore we are reviewing everywhere that Moshe has led Bnei Yisrael before the final travel into Eretz Yisrael. This is just like a school graduation; before you really advance to the next level you look back and appreciate all your years of hard work that led to your big moment and your time to shine. Moshe was reviewing all of Bnei Yisrael’s travels just before they take the big step into Israel without him and Aharon.

Just as the Rishonim state, we must thank Hashem for giving us the merit to inherit Israel and to count each specific place we camped and value them as individual steps on our grand goal. We can learn from the placement in the Torah of Bnei Yisrael’s travels in the desert that we may never take anything for granted. For example, you can receive innumerable gifts from your parents as a child and just expect to get more and more, but you must stop and appreciate all that they have given you and provided you with until this point. So too, Bnei Yisrael can’t just march into Eretz Yisrael and claim it as theirs like they are digging for treasure.

Bnei Yisrael must realize that they did not just run into Israel straight from Egypt and the Yam Suf (Red Sea), Hashem punished them with a 40-year detour in the desert — why? Obviously because they sinned, but perhaps also because He wanted Bnei Yisrael’s appreciation for Hashem to grow and for them to never take things for granted. He wanted them to realize they couldn’t just march into Israel; they had to really appreciate their gifts in life and look back and thank Hashem for every instance that helped guide them to the point they were at in the desert, so close to entering Israel.

We really should take a lesson from why the travels were listed at this point and learn that no matter at what point in life we are, we must pull out the good from the bad and thank Hashem and whoever else is responsible for guiding us on a good path in life. We must think about the little steps that brought us along and developed us into who we stand as today, whether now or in the time of this story in the Torah. Everything in life has a purpose and a reason for its existence. So too, each place Bnei Yisrael traveled to was important and necessary to mention before ultimately advancing and entering Eretz Yisrael.

In the 21st century, we are blessed to inhabit the State of Israel. However, it is not enough to hop on a flight to Ben-Gurion, rather it is vital to thank Hashem and the Zionist leaders for giving us this gift and to appreciate every step of the way leading to creating a Jewish homeland in the modern era.

We are now in the month of Menachem Av. As additional restrictions are placed upon us from the previous 13 days of Tammuz, we mourn and grieve over our ongoing galus, exile. We are blessed to have Israel today but it is not a complete gift. We are thankful to have this wonderful state but we must have (or attain) a deeper appreciation that Hashem has helped keep Bnei Yisrael an everlasting prospering people and that history has led us to this point, therefore fulfilling our duties in this world so we don’t have to mourn come next Av.

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