Parashat Masei begins with a list of Benei Yisrael’s journeys from the time they left Egypt until their encampment on the banks of the Jordan River, the final station before their entry into the Land of Israel. The Torah names each station where the nation encamped, from their initial journey from Egypt to Sukkot, to their final encampment on the banks of the Jordan.
Rashi, in his opening comments to this parasha, states that the Torah here lists “forty-two journeys” on which Benei Yisrael traveled. This number has practical implications with regard to the reading of the Torah on the rare occasions when Parashat Masei is read alone, without Parashat Matot (such as this year, 5776, in Israel). In most Chumashim, an aliya break is indicated in the middle of this list of journeys – specifically, after the mention of Benei Yisrael’s encampment near the Yam Suf (33:10). However, the Magen Avraham (428:8) cites from the Tzeror Ha-mor that congregations should not make an aliya break in the middle of the Torah’s list of journeys, since the forty-two journeys represent the forty-two-letter Name of God. In order to maintain this correspondence, the list should be read without any interruptions.
A number of writers have noted, however, that in truth, the Torah lists here only forty-one journeys. Why does Rashi speak of “forty-two journeys,” if in truth the nation made only forty-one journeys?
Two answers have been given to this question (see Rav Shlomo Mann’s Zot Ha-Torah, p. 157). Some suggest that the number forty-two takes into account the repetition of the word “va-yis’u” (“they journeyed”) in the Torah’s account of Benei Yisrael’s initial journey, from Ramses to Sukkot. The Torah tells, “They journeyed from Ramses in the first month, on the fifteenth day of the month…as the Egyptians buried those whom the Lord struck among them, every firstborn… The Israelites journeyed from Ramses, and encamped in Sukkot” (33:3-4). While it is not clear why the Torah repeated the word “va-yis’u,” it perhaps alludes to the fact that the journey from Ramses to Sukkos occurred in two stages, thus accounting for the forty-second journey indicated by Rashi.
Others, however, answer in light of Rashi’s comments on the final verse of Sefer Shemot. The Torah there tells that there was a cloud over the Mishkan by day and fire by night “be-khol mas’eihem” – in all of Benei Yisrael’s “journeys.” Rashi comments that the word “mas’eihem” here actually refers not to the nation’s travels, but rather to their periods of encampment, because “their place of encampment is also called a ‘journey’.” Even as Benei Yisrael encamped, they were considered on a “journey,” since the encampment was only temporary. As such, the word “journey” can refer not only to periods of travel, but also to periods of encampment. Accordingly, we can easily understand why Rashi here in Parashat Masei makes mention of forty-two “masa’ot.” Although they journeyed only forty-one times, they encamped forty-two times, if we include their initial assembly in Ramses in preparation for their departure from Egypt.
The significance of this notion, that “their place of encampment is also called a ‘journey’,” is noted by Rav Yehuda Leib Ginsburg, in his Yalkut Yehuda (Parashat Pekudei). We cannot constantly be “journeying,” actively and intensely working to progress and advance in our avodat Hashem. Like travelers, we need to occasionally “encamp.” As the Gemara famously instructs in Masekhet Berakhot (35), according to the accepted view of Rabbi Yishmael, “Hanheg bahem midat derekh eretz” – the Torah must be studied and observed within the framework of ordinary human life, which includes ordinary, mundane activities such as work and tending to our material and physical needs. However, Rashi’s comment teaches us that even our periods of encampments must be seen as “journeys.” They must be approached as part of our lifelong process of growth, not as opportunities to temporarily excuse ourselves from this process. We must view our mundane activities, and our periods of rest and relaxation, as means of sustaining and reinvigorating our pursuit of spiritual greatness, and not as disruptions of this pursuit. This way, our entire lives, including all their many different aspects and the wide range of activities in which we engage, are incorporated and blend together into an integrated life of avodat Hashem and the fulfillment of the purpose for which we were brought into this world.