SALT - Tuesday, 24 Tammuz 5777 - July 18, 2017

  • Rav David Silverberg

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This week's SALT shiurim are dedicated in memory of my grandfather 
Rav Yehuda Leib Silverberg z"l, whose yahrzeit is
22 Tamuz, July 16.

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Refua sheleima to
Malka Sarel bat Batya
and
Yosef ben Gracia,
the 450th! kidney donor/recipient team
arranged by Matnat Chaim.
May they be an inspiration to us all!

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            Parashat Masei begins with the listing of all the places where Benei Yisrael encamped over the course of their forty-year journey from Egypt until the banks of the Jordan River.  Rashi, opening his commentary to this parasha, cites two different reasons for why the Torah found it necessary to present this list, the second of which is taken from the Midrash Tanchuma (33:3): “This is comparable to a king whose son was ill, and he brought him to a distant place to cure him.  When they returned, his father began counting all the stations, saying, ‘Here we slept,’ ‘He we were cold,’ ‘Here your head hurt’…”

            Rashi does not cite the next sentence in the Midrash Tanchuma, which explains this analogy: “So did the Almighty say to Moshe: Count for them all the places where they angered Me.”  According to the Midrash Tanchuma, then, the purpose of this list is to serve as a reminder of Benei Yisrael’s sins in the desert, all the occasions where they complained, protested, rebelled and disobeyed. 

It is clear from the analogy to the father and his ailing child that the objective of this account of the nation’s sins is not to condemn the people for their misdeeds, but to the contrary, to reflect upon the journey they had completed.  This list, according to the Midrash Tanchuma, is God’s way of telling Benei Yisrael, “Look how far you have come.”  Like the father and child celebrating the child’s health by reminiscing about the pain and hardships he had endured but are now just a memory, similarly, God reminisced about Benei Yisrael’s wrongdoing as a way of celebrating their progress and commending them for the process of growth they had successfully undergone.

            This Midrashic passage is a powerful statement about the proper perspective we ought to have on our mistakes and failings.  Certainly, we must not underestimate the gravity of wrongdoing, just as God severely punished Benei Yisrael for the sins they committed in the wilderness.  At the same time, however, the Midrash Tanchuma’s analogy teaches us to look upon our failings as stations, as stages along the journey of life which, after the fact, help us reach our goals.  We are to use our mistakes as catalysts for growth, such that in the future we can reflect upon them and see how they moved us forward and brought us closer to where we want to be.  The Midrash teaches us to neither forget about our failures or wallow in guilt over them.  We should instead use them as learning opportunities which help us grow and improve, and thus transform them into significant stations and turning points along our journey of life.