The second of the parshiyos that are read this week begins with a listing of all the forty-two journeys of the Bnei Yisrael in the desert.
As is the case with every word and every letter in the Torah, each name of these places represents lofty, esoteric concepts.
Chazal teach us that this list is also symbolic of the love Hashem has for His precious children.
The Midrash Rabbah (23:3) tells the parable of a king who traveled with his son from place to place. During the travels, the son suffered various troubles in the places where they stayed. Later, the father reviewed the journey and felt pain over each place in which his son suffered. “Here my son was ill; here he suffered a headache.”
This concept applies to the journeys of Bnei Yisrael. Hakadosh Baruch Hu reviewed — so to speak — each journey and felt pain over the suffering and tribulations of the Bnei Yisrael at each of these locations. Even though the Bnei Yisrael seemingly caused their own pain because of their sins, in His infinite love for us, Hashem feels our pain and suffering along with us.
Chazal also tell us (Midrash Rabbah Esther 6:4) that when Rabi Yonasan and the Rabbanan would teach the passuk in Megillas Esther “whom Nevuchadnetzar the King of Bavel had exiled,” they would add the words “may his bones rot,” referring to the icon of evil who destroyed the first Beis Hamikdash. However, when they would teach the pesukim in Yirmiyahu referring to Nevuchadnetzer, they would not do so.
This is because at the time of Yirmiyahu, the king of Bavel was still alive, and about a living king it says (Koheles 10:20) “Even in your thoughts, do not curse a king.”
We learn from this that when Rabi Yonasan taught Megillas Esther, the story came alive for him; thus Nevuchadnetzar was already dead. When he taught Yirmiyahu, though, those pesukim were so alive that even that long-dead evil king was considered alive.
This Midrash teaches us a valuable lesson. As we read the pesukim of the journeys of the Bnei Yisrael, we are in fact retracing their steps.
As the Ribbono shel Olam felt their pain, so does He feel ours. Our people have undergone countless tribulations and suffering in this long and bitter exile, which has lasted far more than forty years …
* * *
The meforshim teach us that the journeys of the Bnei Yisrael were all part of a sacred spiritual mission. The amount of time they spent at each location was dependent on how long it took to elevate and rectify the sparks of holiness in each place.
This is also true regarding all the journeys of our people throughout the long centuries of exile. We have faced relentless persecution and repeated expulsion, as we wandered from country to country and from one continent to another.
At each step, we had a mission to accomplish. Each mitzvah that was performed, every word of Torah and tefillah that was uttered elevated the sparks of holiness in that location.
This concept applies equally to us as a nation and as individuals. Each of us has his or her unique assignment to fulfill.
Whether it is a long-planned getaway or a last-minute unscheduled detour, it is because we have a mission to accomplish. While away from home, especially in the more remote and less-populated areas, an individual has to be particularly careful to perform all the mitzvos and recite all the brachos properly. We have to be cognizant at all times that we are ambassadors of Torah Judaism, and conduct ourselves accordingly.
Traveling give us countless opportunities to be mekadesh shem Shamayaim.
Harav Nesanel Quinn, zt”l, longtime Menahel of Mesivta Torah Vodaas and Camp Ohr Shraga, once had occasion to bring his car to a repair shop in the Catskills. The non-Jewish repairman found it necessary to crawl under the car to do the necessary repairs. After few minutes, he realized that although it was raining heavily, he wasn’t getting wet. While his head and arms were beneath the car, his feet were sticking out — and yet they remained dry.
Curious, the repairmen crawled out, and discovered that Harav Quinn was holding an umbrella over him.
“Rabbi, what are you doing?” he asked.
“I am paying you to fix my car, not to get wet,” Harav Quinn replied with smile.
It was a gesture that the repairman was unlikely to forget, and presumably shaped the way he thought of Jews in general.
* * *
May we merit to see an end to our travails, and be speedily gathered together from all four corners of the earth, and brought to Eretz Yisrael to bask in the glory of Hashem in the rebuilt Beis Hamikdash.