This column has been following these journeys as we read
through the book of Numbers – in an attempt to decipher
the personal application and psycho-spiritual meaning and
significance of the 42 journeys – based on The Baal
Shem Tov’s teachings that the forty-two journeys in
the wilderness, from Egypt to the Promised Land, reflect
the forty-two journeys or phases that each person experiences
The story till now:
Journeys 1-5: Birth through childhood into the maturity
Journeys 6-9: Various adversaries we face early in life.
Journeys 10-12: Power; weakness; revelation.
Journeys 13-15: Craving; rebellion; resignation.
Journeys 16-17: Building family and home.
Journeys 18-19: Failure; mob mentality.
Journeys 20-22: Beauty; fear; unity; community.
Journeys 23-27: Low-points; middle-age; fruits of labor;
Journeys 28-33: Later stages of life as we enter old age.
Journeys 34-38: Harsh challenges in the last stages of
life’s journey on Earth.
Please click here
to read the first six installments covering journeys 1-38.
Now we conclude with journeys 39-42, which cover the last
stages of life’s journey on Earth, and in general
– the final stages of history as we arrive to the
These final four journeys are sort of a summation of the
entire spectrum of life’s experiences, which can be
described as a confluence of extremes: On one hand we are
exhausted and worn down from the grueling journeys in the
wilderness, with all its pains and difficulties. On the
other hand, we can also feel deep appreciation – the
satisfaction that is only possible after waging battles
– that we have made it through the arduous journeys.
Not only have we come out intact, but we can see the fruits
of our labor and above all – we now can understand
that all the challenges through the 42 journeys were about
sublimating and transforming the harsh wilderness, and preparing
the ground to enter the Promised Land.
Journey 39: They left the passes and camped in Divon
Divon Gad means a place of good fortune (Targum
Yonasan. Rokeach). When the tribe Gad was born to
Zilpah – after Leah saw that she was no longer having children
– Leah exclaimed “mazal tov (good fortune) has come,” and
she thus named the new child Gad (Genesis 30:11 and
Rashi). The children of Gad were also powerful people who
were triumphant in their battles conquering the Promised
Land, as it says “Gad, a troop shall press upon him,
but he shall press upon their heel” (Genesis 49:19).
Rashi interprets: “Gad, troops will troop forth from
him” (over the Jordan River to conquer the Land) and
he will triumph “without losing a man” (see
Bechayei Genesis 30:11).
Some say that Divon Gad was located on Zered
Brook (Baaley Tosafos; Chizkuni Numbers
21:12), where the decree that the Jewish people would die
in the desert came to an end (Deuteronomy 2:14). The end
of this decree was celebrated as a day of “good fortune”
by the Jews and they turned this day into a holiday –
the fifteenth of Av (Taanis 30b).
The Zohar (I 244b) says that “the conjunction of
the two letters gimmel and dalet (gad) indicates the issuing
forth of troops and hosts, gimmel giving and dalet receiving.
That river which perennially flows from Eden supplies the
needy, and therefore many hosts and many camps are sustained
from here; and this is the significance of the name Gad,
one producing and giving, and the other collecting and taking.”
Gad denotes the power of “gomel dalim” –
sustaining the needy, helping the poor and downtrodden,
transmitting light to dark places (see Ohr HaTorah Vayechi
pp. 382a. Heichel haBrocho Kamarna Massei).
Divon Gad then represents the good fortune stage
in our lives when we have triumphed in our battles and prevailed
in dire circumstances and now arrive at the end of the process
(or the end of life). This good fortune, however, comes
with mixed feelings. It is definitely worthy of celebration,
but at the same time we also cannot ignore the hard battles
and sad deaths up till this point, and that Moses and the
generation that left Egypt would not enter, at that point,
the Promised Land. Yet, their children will and they will
ultimately be reunited with Moses and his generation –
thus redeeming all the pain.
Elijah the prophet, who is called “mevaser tov,”
the bearer of good news, is from the tribe of Gad. Elijah
will be the one that announces the good news that after
our backbreaking journeys Moshiach and the Redemption have
In personal terms, Divon Gad, is the life stage
when we recognize and acknowledge the blessings of good
fortune in our lives. Despite all the setbacks and struggles,
notwithstanding the “desolate passes” (in the
previous journey), we have refined and elevated the “wilderness”
and have arrived with many gifts. We have learned to sustain
and nurture (gimmel) the barren and the impoverished (dalet).
Journey 40: They left Divon Gad and camped in Almon
Almon Divalthaymah is translated as “hidden sweetness”
– “the place where the well was concealed from them because
they forsook the Torah which is compared to sweet pressed
figs” (Targum Yonasan. Rokeach). Some say that this place
had many streams where chestnuts and figs grew (Lekach Tov
The mystics explain that Almon Divalthaymah is a
state of concealment (Almon from the root he’elem,
hidden), referring to the overwhelming existential loneliness
that we are all subject to in our lives. How often do we
wonder “Am I alone in this world?” “Does
G-d hear my prayers?” In fact, however, this feeling
of isolation, as real as it may seem to us, is only due
to our limited perception. King David teaches us a powerful
lesson in this regard.
When David was escaping the wrath of King Saul, he tells
his dear friend Jonathan (son of Saul) that as the “new
moon” arrives he will go “hide in the field”
(Samuel I 20:5). They then agree upon a sign to determine
whether David must continue to hide from the pursuing Saul,
or he can come out of hiding. When David’s seat will
be empty during the meal of the “new moon” and
Saul will inquire about his whereabouts, Jonathan should
gauge from his father’s reaction whether Saul still
wants to kill David or he will leave him me be in peace.
Once Jonathan determines Saul’s state of mind, he
will come out to the field where David was hiding and “I
will shoot three arrows… as if aiming at a mark. And,
behold, I will send a lad, saying: 'Go, find the arrows.'
If I say expressly to the lad, 'Look, the arrows are on
this side of you, get them,' then come, for it is safe for
you and, as G-d lives, there is nothing to fear. But if
I say thus to the youth, 'Look, the arrows are beyond you,'
go your way, for G-d has sent you away. And concerning the
matter of which you and I have spoken, behold, G-d be between
you and me forever.'”
Once Jonathan saw how his father, Saul’s anger had
not subsided and he wanted to kill David more than ever,
“in the morning, Jonathan went out into the field
at the time prearranged with David, and a little lad came
with him. He said to his lad, 'Run, find the arrows which
I shoot.' The lad ran, he shot an arrow beyond him. When
the lad reached the place where Jonathan had shot the arrow,
Jonathan said to him, 'Is not the arrow beyond you?' And
Jonathan cried after the lad, 'Hurry, be quick, do not stay.'
So Jonathan's lad gathered up the arrows, and came to his
master. But the lad did not know anything; only Jonathan
and David knew the matter… As soon as the lad had
gone, David came out of a place toward the south, and fell
on his face to the ground, bowing three times. They kissed
one another, and wept together, until David exceeded. Then
Jonathan said to David, 'Go in peace, seeing that we have
both sworn in G-'s name, saying, 'G-d be between me and
you and between my offspring and yours forever.’”
(Samuel I 20:20-23; 35-41).
In a very moving fashion the Arizal (Likkutei Torah Samuel)
explains this account as the story of our lives, especially
during the dark years of exile, and how it leads to the
ultimate redemption. David’s concealment symbolizes
the hiding from that we all have to go into from the forces
that want to harm us. Jonathan represents the voice of hope
and clarity: “I will shoot three arrows… as
if aiming at a mark. And, behold, I will send a lad, saying:
'Go, find the arrows.'” – the three arrows represent
the sharp tools we use to hit our mark and refine the material
universe. “If I say expressly to the lad, 'Look, the
arrows are on this side of you, get them,' then come, for
it is safe for you and, as G-d lives, there is nothing to
fear” – we have reached the point when our “arrows”
have integrated matter and spirit, and we no longer have
to hide our souls from predators. “But if I say thus
to the youth – and here the verse uses the world “elem”
(instead of “na’ar), denoting a state of concealment
– 'Look, the arrows are beyond you,' go your way,
for G-d has sent you away” into exile. Sadly, you
must remain in hiding and the concealment may even intensify
due to the sorry state of a corrupt world.
But the story does not end on this low note. Here the verse
continues – and listen to the Arizal’s powerful
interpretation: “But the lad did not know anything;
only Jonathan and David knew the matter.” The young
immature lad cannot see through the concealment, he cannot
discern that G-d remains with us even in the darkest moments.
Only Jonathan and David “knew the matter” –
the truth of the matter, that we never are alone, even when
we are in hiding: “And concerning the matter of which
you and I have spoken, behold, G-d be between you and me
Armed with this faith and confidence, the story concludes
that David and Jonathan embraced and cried together –
“David came out of a place toward the south, and fell
on his face to the ground, bowing three times. They kissed
one another, and wept together” – these are
the outpouring prayers and tears we shed beseeching G-d
to deliver us from hiding, prayers that will be fulfilled
with the coming of Moshiach ben David – “until
David exceeded” and achieves greatness.
This connection gives us the power to transcend the pain
and the loneliness – knowing as Jonathan said to David:
“Go in peace, seeing that we have both sworn in G-d's
name, saying, 'G-d be between me and you and between my
offspring and yours forever.’”
He 40th journey, Almon Divalthaymah,
refers to this existential concealment, which captures
one of the greatest challenges throughout all the 42 journeys
in the wilderness: will we be able to hold on to the faith
and recognize that we even in the arid desert we are traveling
toward the Promised Land? Almon Divalthaymah tells
us that within the hidden lies enormous reservoirs of sweetness,
which we can access by not being myopic children (“the
lad did not know anything’), but exerting ourselves
to see beyond the shrouds and “know the matter”
(Heichel haBrocho Kamarna).
Almon Divalthaymah thus reflects the stage in our
lives – usually one that comes with later years or
when we are about to reach the end of a long process –
when we are faced with this challenge, like a spiral staircase:
as we get closer to the summit, to the destination, we must
make on final 180 degree turn, which utterly obliterates
and conceals the destination, though we are only one step
Don’t be deceived by the dark moment. See it through.
Journey 41: They left Almon Divalthaymah and camped
in the Avarim mountains in front of Nebo
Now they arrive to the Avarim mountains, which Moses climbs
to see the Promised Land, before he prepares to die and
“be gathered up to your people” (Numbers 27:12-13.
This is the final journey in all our lives (actually the
next to final one) – the transition from life to death.
Death obviously is terrible. It symbolizes an end –
a disconnection. We associate it with a finality and permanence:
We no longer can see and touch, speak and laugh with our
loved ones whose souls have departed this plain. Even with
deep faith in the soul’s immortality and continued
eternal journey, death is absolutely devastating. Even if
the soul can see us, we cannot see it.
Yet, yet… the journey does go on. As sad as Moses’ death
was – symbolizing that the world remains in concealment
– the mountain range is called Avarim, which means
“passing through,” or “opposite of” (some say that they
were called Avarim because they were opposite the
crossing point to Jericho. Others explain that from its
peak one could see the burial places of Aaron and Miriam
– Zohar 3:183b; Bachya on 20:28, Deuteronomy 32:49).
Death is also a journey – a passage to another place. Though
Moses went up the mountain and did not enter the Promised
Land, his legacy remained eternal, and the next generation,
trained and inspired by Moses, did indeed enter the Land,
led by Moses loyal student, Joshua. And here we are today
still telling the story, remembering and reliving Moses’
life and his teachings.
Here too we have the paradox of death coupled with knowing
that this is a passageway (avarim), and the journey
continues. Together with the sadness of Moses’ farewell,
we are told that he climbs the Avarim mountains to
look at the Promised land – a gaze of a holy man that
actually affected and helped refine the land. And that Moses
final passage was on Nebo, which consists of two words:
nun (50) bo (within). Nebo refers to the 50th
gate of wisdom that Moses attained as he climbed the mountain.
So, the journey to the Avarim mountains in front of Nebo,
teaches us about our own transitions, especially considering
that everyone has a “small Moses” within (Tanya
ch. 42). And the challenge we have to balance the antithetical
feelings death evokes about the demise of one stage leading
and birthing another.
Journey 42: They left the Avarim mountains and camped
b’Arvos (in the West Plains of) Moab on the Jericho
Jordan. There they camped along the Jordan from Beth HaYeshimoth
to Avel Shittim on the West Plains of Moab
In Hebrew b’Arvos Moab literally means in
the “darkness” (“arvos” is night
and darkness) of Moab – the final, harshest and most
difficult of all the journeys in the wilderness (Likkutei
Levi Yitzchak Igros, pp. 400). Arvos, however, also
means sweetness, referring to the “transformation
of bitter to sweet and darkness to light.”
The same dual application applies to Moab: Moab
in Hebrew is me-av, meaning 'from a father'. Spiritually
this can have a dual manifestation: A father in the positive
sense – a source of sanctity, or a father of evil.
In Kabbalistic terms Av (father) is Chochma, which
can be either Chochma of kedusha (positive energy),
or Chochma of kelipah (negative energy). And these
two meaning converge: Ruth came from Moab, and she was the
ancestress of King David, and hence, of Moshiach.
Thus, camping b’Arvos Moab sums up the purpose
of all the 42 journeys: To transform darkness into light,
bitterness into sweetness.
In describing this final journey, the verse continues:
On the Jericho Jordan. This refers to the level of
Moshiach (Yarden Yereicho: morach v’doyin – Sanhedrin
93b. Likkutei Torah Massei). The Jordan (yarden in Hebrew)
is channel that carries from one to another (Baba Metzia
22a), and is also the “lock-key to Israel” – the great revelation
of light that is derived from the darkness of Moab.
The verse continues: There they camped along the Jordan
from Beth HaYeshimoth to Avel Shittim on the West Plains
of Moab – from the wasteland (yeshimon – Numbers
21:20) to the desolate plain (Ramban Genesis 14:6) on the
dark plains of Moab.
This final forty-second journey is the final stage of our
life’s journey, which both sums up our lives as well
as prepares for the transition to the next generation –
the one that will enter the Promised Land. It thus describes
the summation of all our life’s work – the transformation
of a dark and difficult life, setting the stage for the
next generation of “Jordan Jericho” –
the Messianic redemption.
Our long journey through the wilderness of life –
in all its 42 stages – is meant in order for us to
tame and refine the world and transform it. This in turn
gives us the power to enter the Promised Land – to
self actualize and reach our land of promise.
All the 42 journeys are about freeing ourselves and transcending
the constraints and limitations (Mitzrayim) of our
material existence which conceals the Divine, subduing and
sublimating the harsh “wilderness” of selfish
existence, and discovering the “Promised Land”
– a life of harmony between body and soul.
Just as the first journey was the exodus out of Egypt (Mitzrayim),
each of us begins our life journey with birth – the
liberation of the fetus from the confines of the womb, where
it can develop and become an independent force that has
the power to transform the world. The final journey brings
us to the threshold of the total transformation of the universe
into a holy and “Promised Land.”
Thus all the journeys reflect a dual quality: On one hand
they are challenging and difficult experiences journeys.
On the other, they all carry great promise and potential,
as they allow us the opportunity to refine each of the respective
42 journeys, all leading us to the Promised Land.
This paradox is amplified in the final 42nd
journey – the summation of them all, which captures reflects
encompasses the entire paradox of life – on one hand the
deep darkness, on the other – the power that it gives us
to transform the darkness into light. Thus, all the terms
used reflect these two extremes.
* * *
So, as we read this week’s chapter, Massei-Journeys, we
are reminded that no stage in our lives – and no segment
of history – is an island onto itself. Each phase is part
of a longer journey, a series of odysseys, leading to a
Simply knowing – truly knowing – that every life experience,
even the harshest, is a step leading us to another, better
place, everything is on its way to another, better place
– this alone can help us get through the loneliest moments.
Awareness of the fact that you are on a journey at all
times also infuses each step with profound hope and urgency
– to ensure that it will lead us to a destination.
In the historical journey, we are told that we have already
endured the 42 journeys and we are standing poised at the
“dark plains” on the banks of the River Jordan
Jericho boundary, about ready to enter the Promised Land,
this time – permanently. Commentaries explain that
the opening of this week’s Torah portion, “eleh
Massei b’nei Yisroel ” (these are the journeys
of the children of Israel) is the acronym: Edom, Modai,
Babel, Yovon – the four major exiles and empires that
have dominated history (Yalkut Reuveni Massei from Rameh
m’Pano, Maamar Chokur Din sec. 3 ch. 22. Chida –
As we read about our 42 journeys – and try to find
the particular journey or journeys we are now traveling
through – let us say a toast to each other:
Travel well. The best is yet to come.