SALT - Motzaei Shabbat, July 27, 2019

  • Rav David Silverberg
In loving memory of Yaakov Ben Yitzchak Fred Stone, beloved father and grandfather
whose yartzeit is 25 Tammuz
Stanley & Ellen Stone and their children, Jake & Chaya, Micah & Adline,
Zack & Yael, Allie and Issac, Ezra & Talia, Shai, Yoni & Caylay, Azzi, Eliana & Marc, Adina, Emunah, Shira,and Gabi & Talia
            Parashat Masei begins with the Torah’s list of the forty-two stations where Benei Yisrael encamped over the course of their journey through the wilderness, from the Exodus through their final encampment on the banks of the Jordan River.
            Rashi, citing Rabbi Moshe Ha-darshan, explains that this list was presented to demonstrate the extent of God’s kindness towards Benei Yisrael.  After decreeing that they would remain in the wilderness for forty years, He did not force them to travel constantly from place to place, and in fact, for the majority of the time, they were encamped.  The Torah lists the nation’s journeys and encampments, Rashi writes, to demonstrated that God did not overburden Benei Yisrael even when He punished them for the sin of the spies, as they were not constantly traveling.
            Keli Yakar adds a possible connection between this listing and the end of the previous parasha, Parashat Matot.  The final section of Parashat Matot tells of the request made by the tribes of Reuven and Gad to permanently settle the region east of the Jordan River, which Benei Yisrael had captured in a defensive battle, but had no intention of settling.  Moshe granted their request after securing their promise to join the other tribes in the battle to conquer Eretz Yisrael, but initially, Moshe responded by sharply criticizing Reuven and Gad, accusing them of repeating the sin of the spies.  Just as the spies dissuaded the nation from proceeding into the Land of Israel, the tribes of Reuven and Gad were similarly discouraging the nation by expressing their preference to remain east of the Jordan River, without entering the land promised by God.  In reprimanding Reuven and Gad, Moshe noted the harsh punishment brought upon Benei Yisrael because of the sin of the spies: “The Lord’s anger was incensed upon Israel, and He made them wander in the wilderness for forty years…” (32:13).  Upon reading Moshe’s description of God’s punishment, one might have understood the phrase “va-yeni’eim ba-midbar” (“He made them wander in the wilderness”) to mean that God ruthlessly had Benei Yisrael journey non-stop throughout these years, or frequently had them encamp and then immediately disembark.  For this reason, Keli Yakar suggests, the story of Reuven and Gad is followed by the listing of Benei Yisrael’s forty-two encampments – to clarify that even during this period, when God punished Benei Yisrael, He treated them compassionately and ensured not to overburden them with a grueling travel schedule.
            Keli Yakar’s comments might instruct that when we recall unfortunate events, we must ensure not to overstate the misfortune or exaggerate.  Like Benei Yisrael in the wilderness, we at times find ourselves in unpleasant and undesirable conditions.  However, even at such times, it is inappropriate to overstate the hardship, to view the experience as something more severe than what it really is.  As we reflect upon the times when “va-yeni’eim ba-midbar,” when we’ve gone through a challenging period, we must acknowledge and appreciate the positive angles of those events, the hidden blessings that we were granted, rather than focusing our attention exclusively on the hardship.