Rabbi Shlomo Sobol
Rabbi Shlomo SobolINN: Daniel Malichi

After telling us about the 40 years that the people are Israel spent in the desert, the Torah repeats itself and summarizes the journeys that the Jews travelled to teach us how important it is to make clear and concise summaries.

This Shabbat we finish reading the book of Bamidbar and say together "Chazak chazak v’nitchazek". But the truth is that it’s not just the book of Bamidbar that we are finishing this Shabbat but to a certain extent this Shabbat we are finishing the whole Torah. Why the whole Torah? Because the Book of Devarim is a summary of the whole Torah not new information, so if the book of Bamidbar is really the end of the Torah, then this week, Parshat Ma’asei, we finish the whole Torah.

So, how does the Torah end itself?

There are many ways to end a book. But G-d choose to end the Torah by summarizing it. In this parsha, the Torah summarizes the desert journeys of the children of Israel. We need to contemplate why G-d choose to end the Torah with a summary and not with another method.

Our lives are made up of events that occur at every moment, and for every event, whether sad or happy, easy, or challenging, we need to react as they occur. We experience these moments in their present and that is what makes up our lives. But with all the immense importance of experiencing things as they come and living in the present, we sometimes also need to have a broader perspective and to step back and look at the bigger picture.

We can see that full picture when we make a summary. In a summary, we can see that events to which we attached great importance prove to be trivial in the long run, whereas something to which we did not attach much importance at the time turns out to be a pivotal event that changed our lives. This is the point of view that the Torah teaches us when it makes a summary of the desert journeys: It teaches us to look at things in a broad historical perspective.

With this understanding, let us look at the journeys. The parsha speaks about 42 journeys, which can be divided into 2 groups: One group is the “planned” journeys – the route that the people of Israel had to travel to get from Egypt to the Land of Israel. The Torah calls those journeys "the starting points of their various marches" (goings out according to their journeys) meaning that the purpose of the journeying was to reach the Land of Israel.

The second group is the "unplanned" journeys. These travels are the wandering that the people of Israel were subject to because of the sin of the spies. The Torah calls these journeys " Their marches, by starting points" (journeys according to their goings out) meaning that the purpose of those journeys was for the sake of the wandering and not for the purpose of reaching the Land of Israel.

Rashi teaches us that 22 of the 42 journeys were the “planned” journeys, the travels on the route that G-d had planned for the Jews to reach Israel. 14 of them were undertaken by the generation who left Egypt - before the sin of the spies - and the last 8 took place in the 40th year in the desert and were undertaken by the next generation – the ones who entered the land of Israel. That leaves 20 “unplanned” journeys within the first 38 years in the desert. This was the punishment for the sin of the spies.

There is reason to think that only the first type of journey is "according to G-d’s word" - since only those are following G-d's will that we reach the Land of Israel, and that the journeys which we "merited” due to our sins are supposedly ours and not G-d's. Therefore, the Torah emphasizes that all the journeys, both the starting points of their various marches and Their marches, by starting points are according to the will of G-d.

Everything that happened to the people of Israel was exactly according to G-d’s will. It is true that we would have preferred not to sin and to just travel the 22 journeys which would have brought us directly to the Land of Israel. However, from the moment of the sin of the spies the journeys that we were required to travel as punishment also became part of G-d’s will, and they were exactly what the people of Israel needed in order to correct our sin and strengthen our belief in G-d.

The same is true of our generation, the generation of the final redemption. There are journeys that the people of Israel have gone through in recent generations in which we can clearly see how they lead us forward. But there are also journeys in which we find ourselves seemingly stuck and “walking around in circles”. But if we look at these events with faith in our hearts then we can see that these journeys too are part of G-d’s will. Even the journeys that seem to be leading nowhere are really propelling us forward because they are exactly what we needed to experience in that particular time.

The same is true also in our individual lives. If each person looks back they will see journeys in their lives where they had progressed towards the goal that they had set for themselves, but they will also see journeys which they were prepared to forfeit because they seemed not - or even the opposite of – where they wanted to go. Yet if a person looks at those events from a perspective of faith in G-d they will see that nothing in life is accidental. Everything that occurs is directly from G-d in order to improve and elevate us to places where we never would have reached were we not to have gone through these particular journeys.

Rabbi Shlomo Sobol serves as Dean and Founder at the Barkai Center for Practical Rabbinics and Community Development, and as rabbi of Kehillat Shaarei Yonah Menachem in Modi’in.