The Torah enumerates all of the journeys of Bnei Yisroel,
from the exodus from Egypt until their arrival at the gateway
of Eretz Yisroel, forty-two stations all told. Each stop is
mentioned by name -- which is surprising, knowing how
succinct the Torah is in general. Every seemingly extra
letter is always analyzed by Chazal in many ways and scores
of halochos are derived therefrom. The very tractate
of Shabbos, one of the longest, most difficult and
complex ones, is based on a few mere verses in the Torah,
"like mountains hanging by a hair." This being true, we must
try to understand why the Torah went into a detailed account
of the journeys and way stations of the Jews in the
At the beginning of the parsha Rashi writes: "Why were
these travels written? To inform us of the kindnesses of
Hashem, that even though He decreed their sojourn and
wandering in the desert, we should not think that they were
constantly on the move, without respite. All told, there were
only forty-two journeys. R' Tanchuma interpreted the reason
differently. He likened it to a king whose son was ill. The
king had to take him to a distant place for treatment, and it
was successful. On their return trip, the king reminisced at
every stop. `Here is where we lodged,' he said. `Here is
where you took cold and here is where your head ached' and so
on. Thus did Hashem say to Moshe: `Enumerate all the places
where they provoked Me.' Therefore does it say: `And these
are the journeys of Bnei Yisroel.' "
If we wish to understand the lesson of this parable and why
there was a need to count all the separate stops, we must go
back to the parable. Why did the king feel a need to mention
all the events that were connected with their way stations
along the road? Here we lodged, here you took cold, here your
head hurt etc. What is the purpose in remembering?
HaGaon R' Aharon Leib Steinman explains: A king has no use
for ordinary reminiscences of events just by way of
nostalgia. He wishes to learn from past experiences.
Many people have experienced different lessons at different
periods of their lives. The gemora tells that R'
Yochonon would accord respect to old people, even to
gentiles, because they underwent many experiences during
their long lives. True, not every person uses his experiences
to his advantage, to derive the most of them and to improve.
Not everyone uses the past as a lesson for the future.
The king traveled with his sick son. The Midrash
emphasizes that the son was ill. He needed a cure, an
improvement in his condition. When he did recover from his
illness the king utilized that fact on the journey home, to
review the factors that had intensified the illness so that
in the future, they could avoid them. This is how a king
looks at events: with a sense of responsibility. He studies
the events and analyzes them in order to gain the most from
the experience and to become wiser in the future.
Chazal similarly teach us that we must look at life with a
wise eye. Someone who has experienced certain events in life
must not dismiss them summarily and say: Enough, the past is
behind me; it is a closed page. Rather, he must utilize that
experience as a lesson in life and apply it to the future.
The travels of the Jews were like those stations of the sick
son on his way to his cure. And if there were forty-two
stops, we must conclude that there were forty-two goals to
achieve respectively. If so, in recapping that journey, one
must summarize and take stock in order to learn the lessons
for the future.
"This is where your head ached." In other words, we must make
sure that this doesn't happen again. We are not talking about
an incidental "headache" due to some blow, but of a symptom.
That headache was caused by weakness, by cumulative fatigue
due to traveling. And in the extrapolation from the parable,
the headache was spiritual, due to some weakness, and the
concern was how to avoid spiritual weakness and not let this
recur. What were the causes, the circumstances, the
development -- and how to circumvent these in the future. One
must fortify the "patient," improve him, and make sure that a
trying voyage not cause him to succumb in the future.
"This is where you took cold." That was a danger spot, one
can be cooled off there spiritually. It would be wise to find
a detour to this hazard where one is prone to become ill.
These words apply well to every stage of life. When we stand
at the verge of bein hazmanim, we should take stock of
the lessons to be derived from the previous bein
hazmanim. Did we make any mistakes? Can we improve in any
way? Can we learn from experience? Where were the weak spots?
Where did we get a "headache?" What was the root of the
weakness and so on.
We must not repeat the same journey without having become any