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23 Tammuz 5760 - July 26, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
To Learn a Lesson -- "These are the Journeys . . ."

By L. Jungerman

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 desert.

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 the wiser.

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